Take the Energy of NASA's Record-Breaking Mission With You Into 2019
At 12:33 a.m. EST on New Year’s Day, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed the most distant flyby by any spacecraft ever. The mission was to capture images of Ultima Thule, an icy minor planet in the Kuiper belt, which is believed to date back to the beginning of the solar system.
Ultima Thule is a nickname for the world -- it’s technically classified as 2014 MU69 -- which aptly means “distant places beyond the known world.” It is 20 miles wide, and based on the photos the spacecraft has transmitted back 4 billion miles to us here on Earth, is kind of shaped like a giant jelly bean or a bowling pin.
First image of #UltimaThule! At left is a composite of two images taken by @NASANewHorizons, which provides the best indication of Ultima Thule's size and shape so far (artist’s impression on right). More photos to come on Jan 2nd! https://t.co/m9ys0VhmLA pic.twitter.com/qZu0KL8uJB— Johns Hopkins APL (@JHUAPL) January 1, 2019
New Horizons completed its first mission back in 2015 -- nine years after its launch in 2006 -- when it became the first spacecraft to fly past Pluto. And this successful trip, headed up by a team from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, to Ultima Thule fell on a major space exploration milestone, the week of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8’s historic first orbit of the moon.
In The New York Times, Dr. Alan Stern, the planetary scientist at NASA that leads the project, meditated about the significance of both.
“Ultima Thule is 17,000 times as far away as the ‘giant leap’ of Apollo’s lunar missions. The exploration at Ultima Thule is a fitting way to honor the brash exploration and boldness that was Apollo,” Stern wrote. “Cast an eye upward and think for a moment about the amazing things our country and our species can do when we set our minds to it."
As you begin to work on making your 2019 goals a reality, get inspired by New Horizons. Remember that you’re not going to be able to do it alone -- Stern noted that it took 2,500 people to design and build Horizons.
You might have to play the long game and even then, the first step might not look like much. As project scientist Hal Weaver commented at the press conference following the flyby, "Even though it's a pixelated blob still, it's a better pixelated blob.” If you keep going, who knows what you could learn or what could be possible.