Criticism of NASA plan: New Horizons should no longer explore celestial bodies

Criticism of NASA plan: New Horizons should no longer explore celestial bodies

Criticism of NASA’s plan to drastically reduce the research contract for the Pluto probe New Horizons is growing in US research. This is reported by the US magazine Gizmodo, citing the mission’s head of research, Alan Stern. Accordingly, the US space agency tends to phase out planetary science research in 2024, and from 2025 the probe would then only be devoted to heliphysics, i.e. investigating the interaction of the sun with interstellar space. However, Stern warns that it will probably be decades before a probe can arrive in the Kuiper Belt and carry out research.

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New Horizons was launched in 2006 and was the first probe ever to pass the dwarf planet Pluto on July 14, 2015. What she had revealed was a surprisingly complex world. Two years ago, it was the first human-made object to reach a celestial body in the even more distant Kuiper Belt at the edge of the solar system. Arrokoth, with its snowman shape, was followed by further observations of objects in the Kuiper Belt, but no further flybys so far. She also helped with the largest parallax measurement in history and with measurements of the brightness of the universe.

The team responsible for the fifth-farthest probe from Earth is currently looking for another celestial body to fly past. It is the oldest part of the solar system. For science he is a gold mine says Stern to Gizmodo. But NASA sees it differently. According to a report published a year ago, the probe lacked the resources for long-term observations of such objects. For planetary research, a significant improvement in knowledge is unlikely. Therefore, she should concentrate on heliophysics.

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However, the team around Stern does not want to be satisfied with that. Before New Horizons, no probe had explored the Kuiper Belt and if the probe had to stop now, it would be a long time before a successor arrived. Above all, Stern criticizes NASA for playing off heliophysical research against planetary science at all. The probe has been doing both for more than ten years and can continue to do so. Well-known heliophysicists now agree in an open letter at. The probe will continue to collect unprecedented data for its work for another two decades, while at the same time conducting unique planetary research, the group writes.

Pluto probe New Horizons (67 images)

Pluto’s surface
(Bild: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)


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