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NASA Probe Heads to Pluto

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
January 19, 2006
 
After a string of weather-related delays earlier this week, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft blasted off today on a multi-year mission to Pluto and beyond.

Lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop an Atlas V rocket at 2 p.m. ET, the probe began its nine-year, three-billion-mile (five-billion-kilometer) journey to the most distant official planet in the solar system.

"The last three days there were things that we were dealing with that were beyond our control," said NASA launch manager Omar Baez. "Mother Nature got ahold of us."

Tuesday's planned launch was scrubbed because of high winds in Cape Canaveral. Yesterday, a storm near Laurel, Maryland, knocked out power at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. The lab hosts the inflight control center for the New Horizons mission.

Cloud cover over Florida threatened to cancel today's third launch attempt. But the sky later cleared, enabling a successful liftoff. NASA scientists celebrated the promising start to the long mission.

"The vehicle appears to be in the right place," Baez said. "It's where it needs to be to rendezvous with Pluto nine years from now. We're looking really good."

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