Staff and leadership

Space flight programs

Manned programs

X-15 rocket plane

Project Mercury

Project Gemini

Apollo program


Apollo–Soyuz Test Project

Space Shuttle program

International Space Station

Commercial programs

Beyond Low Earth Orbit program

New Horizons

On January 19, 2006, New Horizons was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by an Atlas V rocket directly into an Earth-and-solar escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26 km/s (10.10 mi/s; 58,500 km/h; 36,400 mph). It was the fastest man-made object ever launched from Earth. After a brief encounter with asteroid 132524 APL, New Horizons proceeded to Jupiter, making its closest approach on February 28, 2007, at a distance of 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles). The Jupiter flyby provided a gravity assist that increased New Horizons' speed; the flyby also enabled a general test of New Horizons' scientific capabilities, returning data about the planet's atmosphere, moons, and magnetosphere.
In November 2001, New Horizons was officially selected for funding as part of the New Frontiers program. However, the new NASA Administrator appointed by the Bush Administration, Sean O'Keefe, was not supportive of New Horizons, and effectively cancelled it by not including it in NASA's budget for 2003. NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Ed Weiler prompted Stern to lobby for the funding of New Horizons in hopes of the mission appearing in the Planetary Science Decadal Survey; a prioritized "wish list", compiled by the United States National Research Council, that reflects the opinions of the scientific community. After an intense campaign to gain support for New Horizons, the Planetary Science Decadal Survey of 2003–2013 was published in the summer of 2002. New Horizons topped the list of projects considered the highest priority among the scientific community in the medium-size category; ahead of missions to the Moon, and even Jupiter. Weiler stated that it was a result that "[his] administration was not going to fight". Funding for the mission was finally secured following the publication of the report, and Stern's team were finally able to start building the spacecraft and its instruments, with a planned launch in January 2006 and arrival at Pluto in 2015. Alice Bowman became Mission Operations Manager.
The goal of the mission is to understand the formation of the Plutonian system, the Kuiper belt, and the transformation of the early Solar System. The spacecraft collected data on the atmospheres, surfaces, interiors, and environments of Pluto and its moons. It will also study other objects in the Kuiper belt. "By way of comparison, New Horizons gathered 5,000 times as much data at Pluto as Mariner did at the Red Planet.
The interior structure is painted black to equalize temperature by radiative heat transfer. Overall, the spacecraft is thoroughly blanketed to retain heat. Unlike the Pioneers and Voyagers, the radio dish is also enclosed in blankets that extend to the body. The heat from the RTG adds warmth to the spacecraft while it is in the outer Solar System. While in the inner Solar System, the spacecraft must prevent overheating, hence electronic activity is limited, power is diverted to shunts with attached radiators, and louvers are opened to radiate excess heat. While the spacecraft is cruising inactively in the cold outer Solar System, the louvers are closed, and the shunt regulator reroutes power to electric heaters.
The amount of radioactive plutonium in the RTG is about one-third the amount on board the Cassini–Huygens probe when it launched in 1997. That Cassini launch was protested by some. The United States Department of Energy estimated the chances of a launch accident that would release radiation into the atmosphere at 1 in 350, and monitored the launch as it always does when RTGs are involved. It was estimated that a worst-case scenario of total dispersal of on-board plutonium would spread the equivalent radiation of 80% the average annual dosage in North America from background radiation over an area with a radius of 105 km (65 mi).