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NASA Spacecraft Awakens From Slumber After Nine-Year, 3 Billion-Mile Trip To Pluto

But... it's still 162 million miles away from its destination.

Posted on December 8, 2014, at 4:42 p.m. ET

After launching almost nine years ago and traveling three billion miles into deep space, NASA's New Horizons probe has activated from hibernation in preparation for its 2015 encounter with Pluto.


New Horizons has previously been brought out of its deep sleep 18 times since its launch atop an Atlas V rocket in January 2006. The probe has spent two-thirds of its time in space hibernating to "save wear and tear on spacecraft components and reduce the risk of system failures," according to NASA.

“Technically, this was routine, since the wake-up was a procedure that we’d done many times before,” said Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager, according to NASA. “Symbolically, however, this is a big deal. It means the start of our pre-encounter operations.”

NASA's New Horizons team will spend the coming weeks inspecting the spacecraft and making sure instruments are working properly, including a high-resolution telescopic camera and a space-dust collector, according to NASA.


Part of New Horizon's extended mission is to venture farther into the Kupier Belt and "examine one or two of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region," located a billion miles beyond Neptunes orbit, according to NASA.


“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, according to NASA. “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.”

The probe still has more than 162 million miles to travel before it reaches the object formerly known as a planet, but is expected to be close enough to observe it in January, and have its closest approach on July 14, 2015.

SSLP / Getty Images