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.
Credit: NASA TV.

A NASA spacecraft destined for the planet Pluto must wait one more day after high winds prevented a Tuesday launch attempt from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

NASA's will provide live coverage of New Horizons' launch beginning at 11 a.m. EST Jan. 18. Click here.
Flight controllers scrubbed the planned launch of NASA's New Horizons Pluto probe and its Atlas 5 rocket just two minutes and 42 seconds before the booster's engines were scheduled to fire. High ground winds, which dogged flight controllers throughout the day, proved too strong to loft the spacecraft safely, NASA officials said.

"We chose not to launch today because the ground winds were just a bit too high," NASA spokesperson Bruce Buckingham said after the scrub announcement. "The wind limit at the pad is 33 knots [and] we have exceeded that limit several times today."

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

High winds prompted flight controllers to delay today's launch several times. The Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket was initially set to carry New Horizons spaceward at 1:24 p.m. EST (1824 GMT), but the ever-present winds pushed the space shot deeper into its launch window.

In television coverage provided by NASA TV, clouds whipped across the skies above the New Horizons-Atlas 5 vehicle as wind blew across treetops surrounding the launch pad.

Glitches with an Atlas 5 vent valve, a ground tracking station in Antigua and NASA's Deep Space Network also led to launch delays, though the wind concerns were omnipresent throughout those issues.

"Space science is almost the ultimate in the delayed gratification," NASA chief Michael Griffin told reporters at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) before the launch attempt.

For New Horizons mission scientists and managers, 'delayed gratification' is an understatement.

The $700 million mission is the first ever aimed at Pluto, its moon system and the icy Kuiper Belt objects that sit in the outer solar system. The mission weathered several budget battles and funding hunts during the long road to the launch pad.

About the size of a grand piano, the 1,025-pound (465-kilogram) spacecraft carries seven primary instruments powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which converts heat from decaying plutonium into electricity.

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

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

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

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

Despite today's wind problems, flight controllers reported no problems with the New Horizons spacecraft itself and are confident the probe will launch before its window runs out.

"We have a really good spacecraft," Stern told in an earlier interview. "A really good spacecraft."