No doubt, there was something that drew people to this particular launch—a sense of something epochal, a passing of the torch from Voyager to a new generation of explorers who had been inspired by Voyager. You could feel it; it was in the air, now it was a new generation’s chance to explore never-before-seen worlds.
They had done it! Against all the struggles, doubts, and naysayers of the past 17 years, a spaceship had left Earth that day on its way to explore the Pluto system. With it rode the hopes of its team and a larger scientific community for what discoveries it would make there, a decade hence, in the cold, cold reaches of the outer solar system.
The people who created this amazing mission of exploration chased their new horizons hard; they never let go of their dream; they put everything they had into it; and eventually they chased it down and accomplished what they set out to do.
When word of the astronomers’ vote in Prague reached the New Horizons team, reactions ranged from indifferent (“Who cares what astronomers think? They’re not the experts in this.”), to bemused, to annoyed, to seriously pissed off. As Fran Bagenal succinctly put it, “Dwarf people are people. Dwarf planets are planets. End of argument.
In the mind of the public, the word 'planet' carries a significance lacking in other words used to describe planetary bodies... many members of the public assume that alleged 'non-planets' cease to be interesting enough to warrant scientific exploration.
Going to the Kuiper Belt is like an archaeological dig into the history of the solar system.
It shouldn't be so difficult to determine what a planet is. When you're watching a science fiction show like 'Star Trek' and they show up at some object in space and turn on the viewfinder, the audience and the people in the show know immediately whether it's a planet or a star or a comet or an asteroid.
No one working as an astronomer is shackled in chains. This is a tremendous profession. There are lots of neat people, and you get to do cool things. If I had to say something negative, it's that there's often a whole lot of travel that takes me away from my children. That can be a bummer a lot of times.
Why would you listen to an astronomer about a planet?
I tell public audiences, don't go to a podiatrist for brain surgery; don't go to an astronomer for planetary science.
Pluto has strong atmospheric cycles: it snows on the surface; the snows sublimate and go back into the atmosphere each 248 year orbit.
We're going to find Marses and maybe Earths out in the solar system's attic of the Oort Cloud and the Kuiper Belt.
I just think it's patently absurd for scientists to categorize objects on the basis of the numbers of objects that they can remember.
We really just didn't realize the diversity of planetary types in our solar system. Pluto looked like a misfit because it was the only one we saw. And just as a Chihuahua is still a dog, these ice dwarfs are still planetary bodies. They're large enough to make themselves round by self gravity, and they surely pass the test of planethood.
I tend to think of Pluto and its moons as presents sitting under a Christmas tree. They're wrapped, and from Earth all we can do is look at the boxes to see whether they're light or heavy, to see if something maybe jiggles a bit inside. We're seeing intriguing things, but we really don't know what's in there.
One thing scientists do is to find order among a large number of facts, and one way to do that across fields as diverse as biology, geology, physics and astronomy is through classification.
During one of the Apollo missions, I saw Walter Cronkite showing off the flight plan. It just mesmerized me. All this detail! That's what I wanted.
Whether there's even an ocean on Pluto deep inside is a question I hope New Horizons can address in indirect ways.
The costs of badly-run NASA projects are paid for with cutbacks or delays in NASA projects that didn't go over budget. Hence the guilty are rewarded and the innocent are punished.
I like the planets because they are real places that you can go to and send machines to. Faraway astronomy - galactic astronomy and extra-galactic astronomy - is really cool stuff, but to me, it's about destinations.