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Launch of NASA's Pluto Probe Delayed for 24 Hours

Launch of NASA's Pluto Probe Delayed for 24 Hours
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, tucked snugly atop its Atlas 5 rocket, was unable to launch on Jan. 17, 2006 due to high winds at its Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch site. (Image credit: NASA TV.)

A NASAspacecraft destined for the planet Pluto must wait one more day after highwinds prevented a Tuesday launch attempt from Florida's Cape Canaveral AirForce Station.

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"We chosenot to launch today because the ground winds were just a bit too high," NASAspokesperson Bruce Buckingham said after the scrub announcement. "The windlimit at the pad is 33 knots [and] we have exceeded that limit several timestoday."

NASA now plansto launch New Horizons Wednesday at 1:16 p.m. EST (1816 GMT), Buckingham added.

High windsprompted flight controllers to delay today's launch several times. The LockheedMartin-built Atlas 5 rocket was initially set to carry New Horizons spaceward at1:24 p.m. EST (1824 GMT), but the ever-present winds pushed the space shotdeeper into its launch window.

Intelevision coverage provided by NASA TV, clouds whipped across the skies abovethe New Horizons-Atlas 5 vehicle as wind blew across treetops surrounding thelaunch pad.

Glitcheswith an Atlas 5 vent valve, a ground tracking station in Antigua and NASA'sDeep Space Network also led to launch delays, though the wind concerns wereomnipresent throughout those issues.

"Spacescience is almost the ultimate in the delayed gratification," NASA chiefMichael Griffin told reporters at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) before thelaunch attempt.

For NewHorizons mission scientists and managers, 'delayed gratification' is anunderstatement.

The $700million mission is the first ever aimed at Pluto, its moon system and the icy KuiperBelt objects that sit in the outer solar system. The mission weathered severalbudgetbattles and fundinghunts during the long road to the launch pad.

About thesize of a grand piano, the 1,025-pound (465-kilogram) spacecraft carries sevenprimary instruments powered by a radioisotopethermoelectric generator (RTG), which converts heat from decaying plutoniuminto electricity.

"We'reraring to go," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern,of the Southwest Research Institute, said before the scrub.

Stern saidthat today's launch attempt was significant for himself and the New Horizons missionto Pluto. It marked the anniversary of the death of Clyde Tombaugh,the astronomer who discoveredPluto using Flagstaff, Arizona's Lowell Observatory in 1930.

"He diednine years ago today, almost to the hour of our [planned] launch," Stern said.

Tombaugh'swidow Patsy and children, now grown, attended today's attempted space shot,NASA officials said.

Despitetoday's wind problems, flight controllers reported no problems with the NewHorizons spacecraft itself and are confident the probe will launch before itswindow runs out.

"We have areally good spacecraft," Stern told in an earlier interview. "Areally good spacecraft."

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.