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Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
320 pp.
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On 14 July 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, capturing headlines around the world. Chasing New Horizons tells the story of that mission: how it was designed, funded, built, launched, and operated. The narrative is as recalled by Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, written up by the astrobiologist and science communicator David Grinspoon. This provides great insider access, although it’s clearly a subjective view.

A brief introduction explains how Pluto was discovered in 1930 and why, in the 1980s, planetary scientists began to lobby for a mission to visit it. Teenagers may struggle with the subsequent chapters, however, which describe how the mission was designed and funded. These sections are a labyrinth of NASA committees, working groups, design proposals, and advisory reports. The second half of the book is far more engaging, covering the spacecraft’s launch in 2006, its flyby of Jupiter in 2007, and the Pluto encounter itself. Those chapters come alive with the authors’ passion for exploration and the excitement of finally reaching the destination.

Throughout Chasing New Horizons, there is a strong sense of the team’s drive to make the most of the brief Pluto flyby and the meticulous planning that required. The authors emphasize the important roles played by engineers, project managers, and mission controllers, reminding readers that it takes more than a good idea and talented scientists to fly a successful mission.

About the author

The reviewer is an associate editor at Science.