‘We’ve Lost Contact’: How New Horizons Almost Didn’t Reach Pluto

May 18, 2018
Photo: New Horizons BookCourtesy of Henry Throop
The "Chasing New Horizons" authors, mission director Alan Stern (left) and planetary scientist David Grinspoon.

mountains, polar caps and a heart-shaped patch that is now the dwarf planet's signature. But some thought the New Horizons mission, which was run out of Boulder, was impossible. Across the 26 years of development, there were many times the historic flyby almost didn't happen.

The inside story of the mission is now chronicled in a book, "Chasing New Horizons," by mission director Alan Stern and planetary scientist David Grinspoon. Stern and Grinspoon told Colorado Matters about all the close calls along the decades-long journey to Pluto, and how they fit the whole story into the book.

Read an excerpt from "Chasing New Horizons":

Glancing at his ringing phone, Alan was surprised to see the caller was Glen Fountain, the longtime project manager of New Horizons.
He felt a chill because he knew that Glen was taking time off for
the holiday, at his nearby home, before the final, all-out intensity of the
upcoming flyby. Why would Glen be calling now?

Alan picked up the phone. “Glen, what’s up?”

“We’ve lost contact with the spacecraft.”

Alan replied, “I’ll meet you in the MOC; see you in five minutes.”

Alan hung up his phone and sat down at his desk for a few seconds,
stunned, shaking his head in disbelief. Unintentional loss of contact
with Earth should never happen to any spacecraft. It had never before
happened to New Horizons over the entire nine-year flight from
Earth to Pluto. How could this be happening now, just ten days out
from Pluto?

Excerpted from "Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto," by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon. Published by Picador. Copyright © 2018 by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon. All rights reserved.