Happy 2019! New Horizons Has Flown Past Ultima Thule and I’m Still Onboard…4 Billion Miles Away

by NM-GRL

Three years ago I recounted how I managed to be aboard the New Horizons mission to Pluto…Well, a billion miles further out, this incredible mission has just completed the flyby of Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt…

ultima

Artist’s Rendition From NASA…see About Ultima Thule

I’m now more than 4 billion miles away, a billion past Pluto.  The discoverer of Pluto, Clyde Tombaugh lived here, co-founded the Unitarian Church in town, and some of his ashes are on that spacecraft. I cheered along this morning when they received the signals confirming the checklist of all the instruments and we found out that all  are working fine,  just like I cheered when they first got the “call in”  and then during the flyby just at the start of the new year at about 12:30 AM ET, January 1, 2019.  It will take 20 months to download all the data and the clearest pictures from the closest distance/the actual flyby will be coming in February, the same month I was born. It’s SO FAR and it takes so long for that signal to come back to Earth. Another briefing will be tomorrow (2-3 pm ET, January 2) and some first pictures from the approach will be shown and these will confirm the shape of this little world.

Watch on Youtube at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory channel and NASA TV. (NASA was off the air when New Horizons first called in due to the government shutdown but was streaming today’s “checklist” confirmation coverage, so hopefully it will streaming again tomorrow).

Below is a re-post about the original Pluto mission’s first success.

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I’m Aboard the New Horizons Mission’s Final Approach to PLUTO Happening NOW!!

Originally published on January 19, 2015 at sister site…

By InsightAnalytical

UPDATE: To keep up to date with New Horizons Mission’s approach, these are the sites with all the info!  Both sites have countdown clocks to the time of the closest approach which will be at 7:49:59 a.m. EDT (11:49:59 UTC) on July 14, 2015.  The Johns Hopkins countdown also includes the elapsed time of the mission as well as a countdown to when the start of the close encounter operations begin,  12 April 2015, 00:00:00 UTC.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/New Horizons website  — scroll down to sign up for their email newsletter for the latest updates, including tracking the craft’s location in the solar system.

NASA New Horizons Mission website  — latest news, Tweets, pictures and other information!

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I’ve always been fascinated by space.  I cherish books which I’ve had since childhood.  Published around 1957, these well-worn treasures are always in view in my office bookcase. So, winding up living in Southern New Mexico near the White Sands Missile Range has been a happy coincidence since it’s a hotbed of all things astronomy and space!   Post-World War II, Werner Von Braun was brought here to test rockets for the U.S. Army and captured V-2 rockets carried hundreds of  payloads.

 

Childood Space Books

Childhood Space Books

What Space Exploration Would be like in the 1970's--Werner Von Braun from Chapter in "Outer Space"

Werner Von Braun’s vision of space exploration in the 1970’s–from chapter in “Outer Space”

NASA’s  White Sands Space Harbor (WSSH), was the primary training area for space shuttle pilots flying practice approaches and landings in the Shuttle Training Aircraft and served as a backup landing site (Shuttle Columbia landed here on March 30, 1982). And I was able to witness the final flyover of the space shuttle Endeavour on its way it’s final home in California on September 20, 2012.  NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which has supported many missions, is a few miles from my home.   I watched as Endeavour circled over White Sands and the NASA facilities on Route 70 in a final goodbye, swung back over the assisted-living facility where my mother was at the time and then flew right over me as I stood on the dam and then turned toward the west.   I had tears in my eyes as I simply loved the space shuttle era! And this haunting video of the flyover brings tears to my eyes now!   I met Alan Hale, of Hale-Bopp Comet fame at the local co-op one day and had lunch with him on his next visit to Las Cruces from his home in Cloudcroft.  Who could have imagined that when I viewed the comet back in 1997 in New Jersey I would someday chatting with one of the discoverers! I also built a 4.5″ Dobsonian reflector telescope telescope one summer at a class sponsored by the Astronomical Society…and later had my scope signed by John Dobson himself when he visited the club!  And, the Spaceport which is waiting for Richard Branson’s commercial edge of space flights to become operable, is just a short distance away.

But even more important now is the fact that Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto,  lived and passed away here…and some of his ashes are aboard the New Horizons spacecraft! See Clyde Tombaugh: Astronomer Who Discovered Pluto, from Space.com.

Tombaugh was a founder of the local Unitarian Church and he is memorialized in a stunning stained glass window in the Tombaugh Gallery,  which houses a variety art exhibitions.

clyde_tombaugh_window_cropped

 

It was quite by accident (or was it synchronicity?) that I’ve reconnected with this Pluto mission. I’ve been clearing out a lot of old stuff lately…clothes, files, and all sorts of stray papers. Recently, I rediscovered a lost printout that I promptly restored to a prominent place in my office.

This single piece of paper reads:

NEW HORIZONS MISSION

Shedding Light on Frontier Worlds

Participation Certificate

Presented to

***********My Name************

On August 30, 2005

Thank you for joining the first mission to the last planet! A compact

disc bearing your name will be included on the New Horizons spacecraft,

set for the first voyage to a new class of planets on the solar system’s

farthest frontier.

Come with us as we complete the reconnaissance of the solar system and unlock

the secrets of Pluto, its moon, Charon, and the Kuiper Belt.

Certificate No. 277229

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  On December 6, 2014, NASA posted this update on the mission entitled “On Pluto’s Doorstep, NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Awakens for Encounter.”  (http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons/on-plutos-doorstep-new-horizons-spacecraft-awakens-for-encounter/#.VLWz3HuW6oN)

After a voyage of nearly nine years and three billion miles —the farthest any space mission has ever traveled to reach its primary target – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation today for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system.

Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., confirmed at 9:53 p.m. (EST) that New Horizons, operating on pre-programmed computer commands, had switched from hibernation to “active” mode. Moving at light speed, the radio signal from New Horizons – currently more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth, and just over 162 million miles from Pluto – needed four hours and 26 minutes to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.

“This is a watershed event that signals the end of New Horizons crossing of a vast ocean of space to the very frontier of our solar system, and the beginning of the mission’s primary objective: the exploration of Pluto and its many moons in 2015,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.

With a seven-instrument science payload that includes advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a compact multicolored camera, a high-resolution telescopic camera, two powerful particle spectrometers and a space-dust detector, New Horizons will begin observing the Pluto system on Jan. 15.

New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto will occur on July 14, but plenty of highlights are expected before then, including, by mid-May, views of the Pluto system better than what the mighty Hubble Space Telescope can provide of the dwarf planet and its moons.

“New Horizons is on a journey to a new class of planets we’ve never seen, in a place we’ve never been before,” says New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of APL. “For decades we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it’s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them.”

January 15th!  With very little fanfare, New Horizons is going places where no spacecraft has gone before! It is happening right now!

In a January 5th article in Time Magazine entitled “ Hello Pluto! NASA’s Visit to the Mystery World Begins,” Alan Stern who has led the project writes:

It’s not exactly top secret, but it is too little known: this month, a small, robot spacecraft—built, launched and guided by a team of over 2,500 Americans—will begin the exploration of far-away Pluto and its five known moons. Lasting from January through July, this epic journey is very much the Everest of planetary exploration.

New Horizons already set records when it was launched in 2006 by becoming the fastest spacecraft to leave the Earth—reaching the orbit of the moon in just nine hours, about 10 times more quickly than the Apollo spacecraft did. Now, after traveling for nine straight years at an average speed of 39,000 m.p.h. (59,000 km/h)—equivalent to L.A. to New York in four minutes—it is at last approaching its historic rendezvous. No spacecraft has ever ventured farther—3 billion miles (4.8 billion km)—to reach its primary target.

At its closest approach, New Horizons will pass Pluto at a distance of just 6,000 miles (9,700 km). It will send back images at resolutions so high that if it were flying over New York City at the same altitude, it could count wharves on the Hudson River and ponds in Central Park. It will also take measurements of Pluto’s composition and atmosphere, study its moons, and more.

In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences ranked visiting the Pluto system at the very top of NASA’s exploration priorities. Why? Because in the 1990s, planetary astronomers discovered a vast structure in our solar system, a previously unknown disk of comets and small planets out beyond Neptune, called the Kuiper Belt. Pluto was the first of many small planets discovered out there, and it is still both the brightest and the largest one known.

The Kuiper Belt is the largest mapped structure in our planetary system, three times as big as all the territory from the sun out to Neptune’s orbit. The comets and small planets that make it up are valuable because they represent the astronomical equivalent of an archeological dig, reaching back to the era of planet formation, 4.6 billion years ago.

Nothing like the exploration that New Horizons is about to undertake has happened in a generation, and nothing like it is planned or even contemplated to happen again. It is likely the last time in our lifetimes that a new planet will be explored. This is more than scientifically important—though it certainly is that. It’s also a reminder of what American technology, culture and daring, on its game, can do.

So… my name and certificate number on a disc that is on a small craft…and the most amazing space mission to date!

To the edge of our solar system…and beyond!

Starting the New Year on a Positive Note: A Tribute to My Favorite Car Dealership, SISBARRO VOLKSWAGEN!

~~By NM-GRL

(Cross-posted from InsightAnalytical)

UPDATE: Still in love with this VW Sportwagen in 2017!!  Went cross country in the Fall of 2016…perfect!!

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During these tough economic times many businesses have to kick it up a notch in terms of how they treat the customers they DO have.  Then there are businesses that have been going all out all along…like my favorite car dealership SISBARRO Volkswagen here in Las Cruces, New Mexico!

The VW dealers I dealt with in NJ were pretty small outfits…like the defunct Princeton VW and the one I went to next, Hamilton VW.  And although Sisbarro VW is part of a larger organization, the VW store still maintains the homey atmosphere that is something special.

Sisbarro Volkswagen
Service at Sisbarro

Part of my loyalty to this organization, apart from the fact that I’m loyal to the VW brand, may be because it just so happens that the owner, Lou Sisbarro was born in NJ (across the river from where I grew up!) and that he gets back to the Jersey Shore (Lavallette) every year (… I have childhood memories of a week at Lavallete with my aunt and uncle and cousins one summer).

But that’s really just coincidental icing on the cake. The real story is that the folks at Sisbarro VW over the years have been great…and the last few months have been EXCEPTIONAL!!

It all started when we traded in our two Rabbits (Golfs again this year) for an end-of -the 2009 year Sportwagen.  Years ago, we had looked at a Jetta wagon, but it was a bit small, so we opted at the time for a Passat.  Since it was a turbo and my mother had so little mileage on it, we decided after 5 years that we might sludge things up because it wasn’t getting driven enough.  We both got our Rabbits, but now that my mother stopped driving, it was time to go to one car.  Luckily, VW reintroduced the Jetta wagon, this time as a totally redesigned Sportwagen…which, seems to be almost as roomy inside as the old Passat!

Of course, since they are in demand and it was the end of the year, our Sales Consultant Andy Gutierrez, had to initiate a search around the western region.  Andy and us go WAY BACK…he’s been at Sisbarro for 10 years and we’ve bought cars from him before.  And he may very well have been the person who helped us out on our first visit to New Mexico. At the time, we were driving a 1998 Jetta sedan and for some reason the trunk indicator light was staying on.  We stopped by the dealership and the problem was resolved…we had been slamming the trunk too hard!!

I longed for a white car but one that was available was pretty much sold. There were two others, one already in sales negotiations, so we decided to settle for the Reflex Silver, just like our old Passat had.  We reviewed the features and said OK!  We’d buy it sight unseen!!  (But, as a courtesy, Sales Manager Mike Tourtillott said we didn’t even have to sign the papers until we actually drove the car!) A customer with a Sportwagen was at the dealership by chance and graciously allowed us to try out the trunk…yes, a walker fit in it, no problem!  The owner, another VW buff, raved that it was the best VW he had ever owned.

Within a few days the car arrivedfrom Utah and it was gorgeous!!  We had a lot of laughs as we paid for the car…Finance Manager Ronnie Frietze has a talent for making the entire process of signing a zillion forms and handing over the check painless as he keeps the jokes coming!

When we sat down with Andy to review the car’s features, I wondered where the AUX input was.  This is the input used for things like MP3 players, etc.  MMMM…… In the center console there was a weird looking receptacle, which turned out to be an IPod cradle.  Panic. I don’t use an IPod and don’t want one.  Where was my little $30 Sylvania  MP3 player going to go??

Apparently, the normally wonderful VW engineers had had a few too many beers over in VW-land, because they had decided to get fancy and strike a deal with Apple to put in an IPod dock even though the first car reviews had said the base model Sportwagen had an AUX input!

OH, DEAR!!!!!

Now, I don’t go crazy listening to my MP3 all that much, but I did use it last summer when I drove the 300 miles up to Albuquerque and the radio dial seemed a bit empty out there in the wide open spaces at times.  Driving alone, it was comforting to hear SOMETHING playing (free classical performance I found on the internet). Besides, I had no use for the IPod dock whatsover.  I felt robbed!!

Well, I launched into a web search and lo and behold! Others had turned up the same problem, only in  a 2008 VW GTI.   And there were pictures to prove it!!  Here’s the page I found with lots of pictures and the solution to the problem:  http://www.golfmkv.com/forums/showthread.php?t=73447

But first, the folks at Sisbarro tried to find a fix through Volkswagen. The Parts Department, Dee Lerma and Jack Tellez, ordered official VW parts at Andy’s request, but they turned out to be converter kits for cars that had an AUX but not an IPod cradle. (Andy walked over to me with a bunch of cables and connectors, a sight to see!)  Along the way, another salesperson, Martín Torres, also tried to lend a hand.

At that point, I showed him the info I had found at the above site.  Andy called in Service Manager Theron Ledbetter.  At that moment, his very young son had a case of the H1N1 swine flu!  He was worried, of course, but still devoted himself to solving the problem that VW had created, not Sisbarro!  I investigated a few different aftermarket “fixes” but it all boiled down to something I found at Enfig Car Stereo…based, amazingly, in Carlstadt, New Jersey only a couple of miles from where I grew up!

Theron actually got on his phone and talked to the guys at Enfig directly to make sure the item would work in my car.  We had to make sure that, as an aftermarket product, it wouldn’t void my warranty.  Luckily, this little gizmo didn’t involve anything more that unplugging the IPod cradle and plugging in the adapter for the MP3 so there was no warranty issue, thank goodness!  Enfig sent the product promptly, but when Theron plugged it in, it didn’t work!  He was back on the phone with Enfig who promptly sent out a different brand.

VOILA!  The little plug in adapter worked perfectly and now all I have to do is tap the CD button on my radio, turn the MP3 on and listen.

Andy, Theron and Mike worked it so I didn’t have to worry about the cost of the unit so the issue was resolved!  I actually had called VW corporate and someone said that “the problem was being fixed” in the 2010 models…obviously, they must have seen some problems with just providing an IPod cradle at the expense of a AUX input that can be used for several other devices.

So, thanks to the crew at Sisbarro VW, I now have an AUX input and play my MP3!

And, much to my delight, I received a Christmas card from Andy thanking us for our continued loyalty.  Well, I have to say, I was very surprised. I think he also wanted to thank me because we had agreed to have a potential customer drive one of the Rabbits we were trading in…and which was sold along with the other immediately!

This whole incident was unusual, of course, but over the years I’ve always had great service at VW…so, I must also thank the folks in Customer Service, Tony Aquilar and Kevin Reed, who also made sure our new car was fully prepped.

And then there’s the lady who sits in a corner of the waiting room. Her title is “Office Coordinator” and she juggles everything from taking phone calls to handling bills.  This always friendly face belongs to Lisa Murillo, whom I snapped through the waiting room window (pic used with her permission):

The Friendly Face of Sisbarro VW

For anyone looking for great people to do business with in the Southern New Mexico area, I suggest taking a drive over to Sisbarro Volkswagen.  Not only will you find great cars, but you find a group of people who will take care of you needs and provide great service after you buy your car!

In this day and age, with so many stories about how people get treated badly, it’s really a pleasure to be able to recommend a great dealership and the great bunch of people who make it happen!

Sisbarro Volkswagen

1115 S. Valley Drive

Las Cruces, NM 88005

575-524-3561;  800-578-1670

(The Sisbarro Dealerships)