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The moment we first saw Ultima Thule close

Planning a study trip for more than three years and the time comes when you first see a new world. This is an unofficial sketch of how I experienced this during the Ultima Thule meeting of NASA's New Spacecraft Horizon. The setting is just a New York conference room 2019 within Building 200 of the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics University, which runs New Horizons. The room supports the analytical work of the New Horizons Geophysics and Geological Survey, one of the three divisions of the entire research team designed to explore Ultima Thule. The other science departments are housed in similar premises elsewhere in building 200. Other APL buildings host both navigation teams, the operating team, a diverse array of instrument and space engineers, and a variety of management and support staff , which makes it possible for more than 1

00 people to unite their efforts in the common cause. Alan Stern is a senior researcher and responsible for the mission of everything.

We all had to make the meeting. Each of us has a story that has to say, part of the game, a unique perspective. The credit for success goes far, many more people than shown in the photos in this article, not to mention the few I call in the story. After all, the experience of the meeting is always personal – where you are, what you did at the time, who you were, and the shared responses of those of the team you work with. This story is just what I saw from the point of view of the small part of the team I was doing at that time.

On an emotional basis, it can not be more electric.

The Deep Space network spent an hour capturing telemetry from the New Horizons spacecraft while sending the image via a Boulder and Colorado pipeline. Wait, check, wait a little longer for a file to build in a particular directory. Who actually sees the image first encounters who noticed the update of the key file – or the fastest typewriting.

Author: Stuart Robbins, who finally calls out: "I got it!" And we immediately blow his working part at the back of our analysis room. This is my back in the lower right corner of the image above. I can not see anything! I doubt many of us can. We have a huge display in the front of the room, so then the question is: how quickly can Stewart remember how to enter the command to connect to it?

Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Henry Throop

We get the image on the screen and we all go. This is Mark Bui, who takes a tour of victory. Mark was the one who first discovered Ultima Thule and with great skill, focus, determination, blood, sweat (and tears on the subject), led a four-year campaign, drawing colleagues from the team (and others) to throw away everything they had of the object to determine its exact path through the space. Throw a needle as you take off into the galaxy – let's see – only 42 times the speed of the sound. So far, there has never been a spacecraft that needs such precise navigation.

Oh, hey, this is Brian May who stands in the back. It went about 30 seconds before the room exploded with three years of energy. The time to show is, except we're all on stage now. We're all in the area. We all have our parts and tools to play but always listen to each other while listening to where the music is going. Do you see people with their hands on their keyboards? They do not return to work, they do not calm down from the show. The rhythm began and we will play at night. A quick initial reading of Ultima Thule is the task ahead of us. Everyone contributes. I look around the room at one point and see Brian quietly working with another member of the stereo imaging team to visualize Ultima Thule.

But John Spencer first has a solo. This is John, who stands to the right. (I'm at the far right, I'm almost sure to load the image). John led the team by defining the entire observation sequence for Ultima Thule. Three years ago, a few months after we flew past Pluto, we fired the New Horizons pushers to direct the course to Ultima Thule. John stood up in a team meeting in November 2015 to ask, "Well, well, so what will we do when we get there?" There are unlimited teleconferences, meetings, PowerPoint presentations, simulations, consultations. In the middle of one thought I thought, "Goood, John is trying to order Chinese food for 100!" The trick is to make sure everyone gets enough to be happy even if he can not get everything he wants. we work side by side with Mark to make sure that we first have to get to Ultima Thule OK.

So, solo! While we are all crazy, John in his casual style remembers to ask Stewart for the exact position of Ultima Thule in the image and immediately knows that we have put it right on the money. Navigation looks perfect – we need to get everything we asked for. He sings around the room.

Author: Mark embraces John or John hugs Mark. He works. Everything works.

I'm right, grinning, and that's Simon Porter back to the left, the four of us were the intelligence binaries group. , we used remote spacecraft images to see if the road to Pluto is safe in 2015 and again during the Ultima Thule approach. The Danger Team (led by Mark Shawller, who is in the lower left corner of the previous photo) said the road to Ultima Thule was clean of dust and debris for several weeks.

But if the spaceship was secure against physical damage, the project team still worried that when we get nearer, we can understand that Ultima Thule is indeed a binary system of two sites, potentially requiring a sharp correction of our pre-programmed targeting. We stayed in the "nest" almost everywhere, supporting the efforts of both navigation teams. I was more than a little nervous that we could really stick the needle.

Author: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Henry Troop

So, I also have to hug John! But there is more. About two years ago, John ordered me to lead the design of the highest resolutions to be made. Whether we could direct our efforts to Ultima Thule with the New Horizons high resolution camera was an open question. I've always been annoyed by John for one or another trick we could do to make it work.

Sincerely: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Henry Troop

Here's Ultima Thule! Can you read this image? (Full disclosure: here we are looking at an even closer image that came late in the evening rather than the first one to collapse.) I try to learn from my time with the team but I am not trained as a planetary scientist. As an extragalactic astronomer, I can read galaxies, star clusters, what I have, but that is beyond my experience. But then it is beyond the experience of everyone else, and that is the essence of the discovery. I know Ultima Thule is nothing like what we've seen before. But is it special? Hopefully not! We have never been so far before. The whole Kuiper belt is unknown until the early nineties. We hope that Ultima Thule is not strange, but is typically a strange newcomer. We will share all these ideas with each other, with various atrocities, bone scans, computation, simulation, gestures. We will be wrong about some things, just about the others. There will be smart ideas, often by those who are not in the team, but wait patiently (or wait so hardly) to see what we have pulled out of the outer solar system.

Now imagine yourself here with us in a darkened room. Stay calm, look, think, imagine, think about where we are traveling and what we will learn from the trip. This is your adventure.

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