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Pluto-Palooza - NASA's New Horizons Mission to Pluto

The First-Ever Mission to the Pluto System and the Kuiper Belt

Wednesday May 13th, 2015 from 6:00 to 9:00 pm

This event will be streamed live. Please visit our Live Stream page at 7pm on the evening of the event to view the presentation for free.

Pluto-Palooza New York at The Explorers Club features Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, leader of the mission team; Cathy Olkin, Deputy Project Scientist; Marc Buie, New Horizons Co-Investigator; and Tiffany Finley, who as a graduate student helped design, build and test the Student Dust Counter and is now a member of the Science Operations Team. Together they will present a dynamic and richly-illustrated overview of the mission and the men and women who make it possible, leaving time for interaction and one-on-one encounters.

The New Horizons mission will help us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the Pluto system and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation. New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and began a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in early 2015. Pluto closest approach occurs on July 14, 2015. If NASA approves an extended mission, the spacecraft could head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine one or two of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit.

Sending a spacecraft on this long journey will help answer basic questions about the surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres on these bodies. The National Academy of Sciences ranked the exploration of the Kuiper Belt – including Pluto – as being of the highest priority for solar system research. New Horizons seeks to understand where Pluto and its moons “fit in” with the other objects in the solar system, such as the inner rocky or “terrestrial” planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury) and the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune). Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, belong to a third category known as “ice dwarfs.” They have solid surfaces but, unlike the terrestrial planets, a significant portion of their mass is icy material.

Using Hubble Space Telescope images, New Horizons team members such as Principal Investigator Alan Stern (Southwest Research Institute, SwRI), Project Scientist Hal Weaver (Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory) and Co-Investigator Mark Showalter (SETI Institute) have discovered four previously unknown moons of Pluto: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos. And in the last few months before Close Approach the team will be on the lookout for possible new moons and even a ring system that may prove a threat to the spacecraft.

A close-up look at these worlds from the spacecraft promises to reveal an incredible story about the origins and outskirts of our solar system. New Horizons also will explore – for the first time – how ice dwarf planets like Pluto and Kuiper Belt bodies have evolved over time.

New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched, is traveling the farthest to reach its primary target, and is the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The United States has been the first nation to reach every planet from Mercury to Neptune with a space probe. If New Horizons is successful, it will allow the U.S. to complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system.

Dr. Alan Stern is the New Horizons Principal Investigator, leading the mission team and serving as PI of two instruments aboard the craft: the Alice UV spectrometer and the Ralph Visible Imager/IR Spectrometer. A planetary scientist, space program executive, author and aerospace consultant whose clients include Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Naveen Jain’s Moon Express Google Lunar X-Prize team, Dr. Stern has a storied career in space exploration and commercial space flight. His academic focus is on studies of our solar system’s Kuiper belt and Oort cloud, comets, the satellites of the outer planets, the Pluto system and the search for evidence of solar systems around other stars, and he has over 25 years of experience developing space instruments. In 2007 and 2008, Dr. Stern served as NASA’s chief of all science missions, overseeing a record 10 major new flight projects and the implementation of NASA’s education and public outreach programs; in 2007, he was named to Time’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Dr. Stern’s work has taken him from the South Pole to the upper atmosphere. Currently an Associate Vice President at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO, he is training to fly a series of suborbital space research missions with Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace later this year and into 2016.

Cathy Olkin is a New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist and a member of the Pluto Encounter Planning team, and works in the Office of the Principal Investigator at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO. Cathy is a planetary scientist with interest in the icy worlds of the outer solar system. She’s deeply committed to education and outreach and has been a coach in FIRST Lego League robotics competitions, and mentors both undergraduates and younger students.

Marc Buie is a New Horizons Co-Investigator, currently working at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO. Pluto has been a major focus of Marc’s research since 1983, and he was a founding member of the so-called “Pluto Underground” that has been promoting America’s first mission to the 9th. planet, starting in 1989. More recently he discovered the Kuiper Belt Objects that New Horizons might fly on to after the Pluto encounter, if NASA approves an extended mission. He also has a project ( that is enlisting students to help measure the sizes of many objects in the Kuiper Belt. Marc is also interested in protecting Earth from asteroids and is part of a team attempting the first privately funded deep-space survey mission ( Says Marc, “I may be thin-blooded transplant from Louisiana but my imagination always runs away with me when thinking about the super cold and complex environment on Pluto.”

Tiffany Finley is a Principal Engineer in the Space Operations Department, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder CO. After studying at MIT as an undergraduate, she earned her MS degree in Aerospace Engineering Sciences at CU Boulder, and was a member of the team that designed, built and tested the “Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter” (VBSDC), currently the only student-built instrument on a major NASA mission. (Venetia Burney was the English schoolgirl who proposed the name “Pluto” when the planet was discovered in 1930.) Tiffany is now Manager of the “Tombaugh Science Operations Center” at SwRI, and a member of the sequencing team working with the LORRI camera that is taking long range images of the Pluto system for both scientific and navigation purposes. Tiffany also continues working with the Student Dust Counter.

Tickets for the evening are Free for Explorers Club Members and $20 for non-members.

The evening will begin with a cocktail reception at 6:00 pm, followed by the presentation at 7:00pm. The presentation will conclude with a Q&A session, with the New Horizons team fielding questions from those in attendance.

To secure a reservation, please call us at 212.628.8383 or email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

You can learn more about the New Horizons Mission here.

Follow the team on twitter and get the latest updates on the spacecraft here!

For more information about Pluto-Palooza please contact:

Geoff Haines-Stiles or Erna Akuginow, 973.656.9403
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Date: 5/13/2015

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