January 18, 2006

NASA’s Pluto flight delayed again due to power outage

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA canceled
Wednesday's launch of the U.S. space agency's first probe to
Pluto after the mission control headquarters in Maryland lost
power, officials said.

The launch of the piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft on a
massive Atlas 5 rocket had been postponed from Tuesday due to
high winds at the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force

NASA officials said it was not immediately clear why
mission control at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics
Laboratory nearly 1,000 miles away in Maryland lost power.

The agency hoped the problem would be resolved in time for
the next launch window between 1:08 p.m. and 3:07 p.m. on
Thursday. NASA has until February 14 to launch the probe, but
postponements could add up to 5 years to its journey.

The earliest that New Horizons can reach Pluto, if it
launches in time to slingshot itself off the gravity field of
Jupiter, is July 2015.

The Applied Physics Laboratory designed and put together
the half-ton satellite.

As Pluto is too far from the sun for the spacecraft to tap
solar energy, it will draw power from the natural decay of 24
pounds (11 kg) of plutonium pellets that are contained in an
on-board generator.

Twenty-four previous space missions have used radioactive
plutonium as power sources, and NASA says the risks of
contamination in the case of an accident during launch are
minimal. More than two dozen radiation sensors and 16 teams of
safety experts have been deployed to monitor the launch.

The $700-million project will be NASA's first mission to
Pluto, the only unexplored planet in the solar system.

Pluto is the largest and best known of a relatively new
type of planetary body called a Kuiper Belt object.

The Kuiper Belt is located beyond Neptune's orbit, which is
30 times farther away from the sun than Earth. It contains
frozen objects believed to be leftover remains from the
formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.