‘A hallmark moment in human history’ as New Horizons’ epic journey culminates in Pluto flyby

Above is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach - 7:49 a.m. EDT. This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 766,000 kilometres from the surface. Members of the New Horizons science team react to the image.

“This is truly a hallmark in human history,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s science mission chief.

The United States is now the only nation to visit every single planet in the solar system. Pluto was No. 9 in the lineup when New Horizons departed Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Jan. 19, 2006, but was demoted seven months later to dwarf status. Scientists in charge of the US$720 million mission, as well as NASA officials, hope the new observations will restore Pluto’s honour.

PHOTOS: NASA, Bill Ingalls

Nasa confirma evidências da existência de fluxos de água líquida em Marte.

“Nossa missão em Marte tem sido a de ‘seguir a água’, em nossa busca por vida no universo, e agora temos a ciência de forma convincente que valida o que temos suspeitado por muito tempo”, disse John Grunsfeld, astronauta e associado administrador de Ciência da NASA.


Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important.
– John Grunsfeld, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate 

When approaching Venus in the early days of planetary exploration by spacecraft, we speculated wildly, throwing our best guesses at what lay beneath the Venusian atmospheric shroud. As our technology improved, we sent our Venera, Pioneer, Magellan, and Mariner spacecraft to our sister planet, determined to uncover the source of her unapologetically hellish conditions. Once it was revealed that Venus represented the most extreme example (so far) of a runaway greenhouse effect, our morning and evening star became a next-door laboratory for Earth’s worst case scenario.

Spacecraft missions Mariner 6 and 7 along with Vikings 1 and 2 performed similar experiments when studying Mars. Upon approach, however, it was observed (postulated beforehand by astronomer Carl Sagan) that Mars experienced hemisphere-engulfing dust storms that blanketed the surface features from view. Mars slowly showcased its long awaited mysteries when our patient robotic emissaries orbiting the Red Planet communicated to us features contrary to our sci-fi projections of an alien civilization redirecting water from the poles through canals and Martian channels. Just as Venus had, Mars provided us further questions, and entirely new mysteries to solve. Yet another neighboring world which would serve as an extra-terrestrial lab for us to inquire into its quite obviously bereft water source, and its history as a planet that remains in a Shrodinger-like “dead or alive” phase. 

Now, with New Horizons’ recent flyby of the enigmatic castaway in our solar system, we are once again reeling with giddy anticipation from the images slowly being returned to us bit by bit, Pluto subtly lifting its veil on 85 years of curiosity. And a worthy wait it has been, because - dwarf planet or not - Pluto has much to teach us about Earth’s origins, the formation of the solar system itself, and ultimately, our own (as Bill Nye describes) “place in space.” 

Congratulations to the New Horizons team from NASA and APL to everywhere and everyone in between for a successful #PlutoFlyBy mission poised to rewrite history by revealing to us how the pages were put together in the first place. 

– The Endeavorist Team

s/o to syldenn for the stellar Pluto fan art :)


Tomorrow, July 11th (by close of business) is the final day to RSVP for the American Astronautical Society’s 60th Anniversary event!

And yes, you read that right. Astronauts and Scientists. Not just any astronauts and scientists either…

…Charles Bolden (NASA Administrator), John Grunsfeld (Associate Administrator of NASA’s Mission Science Directorate), Sandra Magnus (Executive Director of the AIAA or American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics)…all of which will be speaking on our panel to discuss the film!

Beforehand, however, the AAS Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Dr. Edward Stone!

Not familiar with Stone? Edward Stone was the Former Director of JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and the Lead Project Scientist for a little spacecraft you may know…

…that’s right. Ed Stone has been working with the Voyager spacecraft since the Grand Tour Mission. And what a time for an event like this to celebrate the man, as Voyager 1 was just confirmed “interstellar” (again) via data transmitted back from deep space!

So, if you can make it, join us on July 16th from 6pm-9pm in the National Academy of Sciences Building, for an evening of cosmic proportions :)


Yesterday, former astronaut John Grunsfeld came over to the startorial side when he wore this planet tie for a Pluto Flyby briefing on NASA TV. HE IS ONE OF US NOW! 

The tie is available from multiple outlets: Armstrong Air & Space Museum,,

- Summer

NASA Discovers Evidence for Liquid Water on Mars

Today at 12:40 EDT, Museum Curator and Astrophysicist Michael Shara will appear on @AMNH Periscope to talk about today’s announcement from NASA:

New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water – albeit briny – is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

Read the full announcement. 

Brush up on your Mars knowledge with this timeline of the Search for Life on Mars and learn about a Science Bulletin about water on Mars

Disco-era satellite staying alive with new mission for ‘citizen scientists’

Disco may be dead, but a decommissioned NASA space probe from that era is staying alive, thanks to a group of ‘citizen scientists’ tasked with giving the satellite a reason to survive.

The US space agency signed its first ever Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement (NRSAA) with a private firm, giving Skycorp - and its partners Space College and SpaceRef - control over the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft that has been unused since NASA deactivated it in 1997.

“We have a chance to engage a new generation of citizen scientists through this creative effort to recapture the ISEE-3 spacecraft as it zips by the Earth this summer,” John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.

Earth 2.0 has been confirmed, discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope. Kepler 452-b.

What does this mean? A planet similar to ours has been found indicative of being habitable and has been orbiting a star similar to ours for around 6 billion years. And the data from Kepler is so rich that there could be far more than this, coinciding with the fact that nearly every star we see from this vantage point has a solar system. How’s that for perspective?

So much for all of our ancestors’ creation stories and geocentric religions proselytizing Earth being the center of the universe and over glorifying our uniqueness. They should’ve waited for Kepler.

The live audio webcast was great, complimented by beautiful words from John Grunsfeld.

#ThanksNASA 🌎🌏🌍

UPDATE: Just so we’re clear — this discovery is not groundbreaking, merely indicative of the significant diversity amidst galaxies and solar systems. In order to get further detail on Kepler 452-b, others like it, and subsequent planets we examine, we’ll need to conduct far more meticulous research. For that, the scientific community are anxious to see what data is returned from the advanced instruments poised for “first light” in the coming years; such as NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), JWST (James Webb Space Telescope), and other space telescopes in the planning and development stages as you read this. The TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope) currently being developed and built will also provide fantastic insight into exoplanet research. So, stay tuned and follow the science (from the source via the researchers doing the work) not the press hype!

Close-up of Astronaut John Grunsfeld shows the reflection of Astronaut Andrew Feustel, perched on the robotic arm and taking the photo. The pair teamed together on three of the five spacewalks during Servicing Mission 4 in May 2009


On Thursday I went to a talk by John Grunsfeld. Grunsfeld has flown in space five times, and is currently NASA’s Associate Administrator to the Science Mission Directorate. His last shuttle mission was the final Hubble servicing mission, STS-125, which was also one of the missions in “Hubble:3D.”

Dr. Grunsfeld talked all about the recent discoveries in the solar system, but he also discussed his STS-125 flight, and how the mission could have easily gone wrong many, many times. Unfortunately my photos don’t really sell the event. But if you ever get a chance to see him, go - he’s a great speaker.

#TBT Felt pretty out of this world to hang with former NASA astronaut John Grunsfeld, former NASA astronaut & current NASA Chief Admin Charles Bolden, and Lead Project Scientist for the Voyager spacecraft & CalTech Physics Professor Edward Stone (who was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award that evening) during the screening of ‘I Want To Be An Astronaut’ in the National Academy of Sciences Building in DC for the American Astronautical Society’s 60th Anniversary.

Humbling doesn’t even cover it. So much stellar in one image. I’ve never felt closer to Carl Sagan than engaging with one of the most influential men responsible for the Voyager’s’ success.


All Systems Go for NASA’s Mission to Jupiter Moon Europa

Beyond Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of present-day life, and a new NASA mission to explore this potential is moving forward from concept review to development.

NASA’s mission concept – to conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate its habitability – has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase known as formulation.

“Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”

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NASA’s New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.

“We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now – 10 days after closest approach – we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling.“

Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze – one about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 kilometers).

“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries – it brings incredible beauty.”

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