This year saw several milestones in the field of astronomy. The last of the nine planets that school children for the past hundred years have been memorizing was finally reached and photographed (sure, Pluto might have been demoted, but it will always hold a special place in our hearts). And now, NASA’s formerly Pluto-bound New Horizons probe will most likely be hurtling into the previously unexplored Kuiper Belt to photograph and analyze small, asteroid-like bodies of rock and ice, orbitting the sun so far away that we really know next to nothing about them.
It will take about a year for all the data and images from New Horizons to be slowly sent back to Earth, and it won’t reach its proposed Kuiper Belt destination until 2019. But then what?
NASA will be hard put to duplicate the attention in got from the Pluto mission, and even that was nothing compared to the medi circus that surrounded the moon missions. Maybe a mission to Mars would pique the public’s interest, but the number of potential problems involved with a mission like that could postpone it for decades.
But it shouldn’t matter.
Yes, NASA is a huge expense, but it’s also made some incredible scientific discoveries. It can’t promise to produce results on a set deadline, because that’s not how science works. Until some other space exploration company takes over, NASA is our best and only way to learn about the vast and unexplored wilderness that is outer space.
Hopefully The next leg of New Horizons’ mission goes off without a hitch. Until then, check out the ever-growing album of images from Pluto here.