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Artist Concept of New Horizons Spacecraft over Pluto

Ames Contributions to the New Horizons Mission



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After nine years in flight, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will reach its primary mission destination to flyby the dwarf planet Pluto on July 14. New Horizons is NASA’s first mission to Pluto, the first study of the Kuiper Belt objects, and the first mission of NASA’s New Frontiers Program. Last month, this piano-size probe awoke from its final hibernation period after a voyage of more than 3 billion miles, and will soon approach Pluto inside the orbits of its five known moons.

Contributions to the New Horizons mission by researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, include the following: 

  • Three NASA Ames scientists play key roles on the New Horizons science team:
    • Kim Ennico, deputy project scientist and co-investigator
    • Jeff Moore, Geology and Geophysics Investigation (GGI) team lead and co-investigator
    • Dale Cruikshank, Composition team member and co-investigator
  • Observations of Pluto by the SOFIA airborne observatory
  • Observations of Pluto by the Kepler/K2 mission
  • 3-D model of the New Horizons spacecraft highlighted on the NASA 3-D resources website, managed by Ames 
  • local public event at Ames celebrating Ames’ contributions on July 14 from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

You can find more information about each of these contributions below.

More information about Ames’ scientists on the New Horizons team:

Kim Ennico, as New Horizons deputy project scientist, manages the instrument readiness and calibration aspects of the mission. Her expertise includes instrument development, space qualification, and calibration; optical/infrared astronomy; optical/infrared detectors, optics, cameras, spectrometers; and science communication (social media, public speaking, hands-on classroom activities.

As a co-investigator, Jeff Moore is the imaging node leader for the New Horizons mission. This activity involves working with the imaging team to define the science observations, plan the observational sequences, and calibrate the camera system. He also served as Chairman of the Jupiter Encounter Sequencing Team for the New Horizons mission, which enjoyed a very successful encounter with the giant planet and its moons in 2007.

Dale Cruikshank, an astronomer and planetary scientist who specializes in spectroscopy and radiometry of planets and small bodies, will focus on the composition of the surfaces of Pluto and its satellite. His expertise covers Infrared spectroscopy and radiometry of planets, planetary satellites, asteroids, comets, transneptunian bodies, as well as physics and chemistry of ices and organic materials in planetary settings.

All three scientists will analyze instrument data collected during the flyby, and will be available for limited remote interviews from the New Horizons mission control in Maryland. Members of the news media interested in interviewing these Ames scientists may contact Sharon Lozano at

More information about SOFIA’s observations of Pluto:

In a special celestial event visible only from the Southern Hemisphere, Pluto passed directly between a distant star and the Earth on the morning of June 30, New Zealand time (June 29 in the U.S.). As the dwarf planet and its atmosphere were backlit by the star, this “occultation” caused a faint shadow of Pluto to move across the surface of Earth at more than 53,000 mph, creating a ripe opportunity to perform scientific analysis – if instruments and observers could be in the right place at the right time. The only observatory capable of positioning itself above terrestrial weather and directly in the center of Pluto’s shadow was NASA’s SOFIA, a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch (2.5-meter) diameter telescope built by NASA’s partner, the German Aerospace Center.

More information about the Kepler/K2 observations of Pluto:

Beginning in October, the Kepler spacecraft in its new mission, K2, will train its unceasing gaze on Pluto for nearly three months. Similar to how Kepler detected distant planets by measuring the change in brightness of their host star, K2 will record the change in the reflected light off Pluto and its nearest and largest moon Charon. Scientists will learn more about the effects on the atmosphere and surface of Pluto imparted by the dwarf planet’s eccentric and expanding orbit about the sun. The data may also reveal seasonal changes on this chilly world.

“K2 observations will expand the time coverage of the speedy New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto, making observations of the dwarf planet-moon system every 30-minutes,” said Steve Howell, project scientist for Kepler/K2 at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “We are excited to turn the planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft’s attention to this distant solar system object to provide additional scientific insight into this far off, mysterious world, itself a miniature solar system of five moons in orbit about Pluto.”

More information about the 3-D resources model of the New Horizons spacecraft:

The New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006, is on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy dwarf planet of Pluto and its moons in July 2015. After 10 years and more than 3 billion miles, on a historic voyage that has already taken it over the storms and around the moons of Jupiter, New Horizons will shed light on new kinds of worlds on the outskirts of the solar system. You can examine a 3-D model of the New Horizons spacecraft and download a .stl file for 3-D printing. View and download the model on the NASA 3-D resources website, managed by the agency’s Ames Research Center. 

The site recently celebrated the download of its one millionth file. To find a collection of other 3-D models, textures, and images from NASA projects, visit the 3-D resources home page

More information about the Ames public event on July 14:

NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, will host a public event Tuesday, July 14, from 2:00 to 6:30 p.m. PDT, to commemorate NASA’s historic flyby of Pluto, its moons and the mysterious Kuiper Belt. Media are invited to cover the local event.

At the Ames event, three hundred registered guests will have the opportunity to hear guest lectures from scientists about exploration and the New Horizons mission to Pluto, talk to researchers at informational booths and view live NASA broadcasts. Mission co-investigators from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute and Stanford University will be present at the Ames event. The event will take place at the NASA Ames Training and Conference Center.

NASA media products:

Other New Horizons resources:

New Horizons activities online: