New Horizons Comes Out of Its Coma

New Horizons was brought out of its “controlled” coma on Thursday (7/12/07), for no other reason than to see that it could be done. Ok, I lied. There were (and are) plenty of reasons to keep it alive and awake for the entire trip. But putting the spacecraft to sleep is so much more economical, and in some cases, safe for the instruments, that it was the seen as the better plan by the powers-that-be at APL and NASA from the beginning. That is, it’s better so long as the spacecraft wakes up properly.

It did.

Signals from New Horizons that it had come out of its electronic slumber – during which the guidance and control system and most science instruments were powered off – came through NASA’s Deep Space Network and reached mission operators at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., just before 2 a.m. EDT. The spacecraft was 550 million miles from Earth, cruising toward the outer solar system at nearly 46,000 miles (74,000 kilometers) per hour.

Per mile, this has to be NASAs least expensive mission yet. From now until Pluto (July 2015), New Horizons will spend most of its time in a coma. It’s good to know that, so far, it’s going exactly as planned (knock on lots of wood!).

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