'Chasing Pluto': PBS Documentary on Epic New Horizons Flyby Airs Tonight
Artist's illustration of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft approaching Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015.
Credit: JHUAPL/SwRI

Anyone wishing to relive the excitement of the New Horizons spacecraft's epic Tuesday (July 14) flyby of Pluto is in luck: A documentary that chronicles the historic event premieres tonight (July 15) on PBS.

"Chasing Pluto," a production of PBS' NOVA science series, airs tonight at 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT. The documentary provides an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the New Horizons mission, brings viewers up to speed on some of the newest developments in planetary science and investigates why people care so much about Pluto, producers said.

"NOVA is committed to telling the full scientific story — the tech innovations, the potential risks and what we might gain from big, bold human space exploration endeavors like this one," Paula Apsell, Senior Executive Producer of NOVA, said in a statement. "We’re excited for NOVA to be on hand to bring viewers the New Horizons story — both online and on air — directly from the front lines."

At 7:49 a.m. EDT (1149 GMT) Tuesday, New Horizons zoomed within 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) of Pluto, becoming the first spacecraft ever to visit the dwarf planet system. The probe's observations should revolutionize researchers' understanding of Pluto, its big moon Charon and other bodies that reside in the frigid Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune's orbit, NASA officials have said.

The $723 million New Horizons mission began taking shape in 1989 but didn't get NASA approval until more than a decade later. The spacecraft launched in January 2006 and is now nearly 3 billion miles (4.8 billion km) from Earth — so far away that it takes 4.5 hours for a command, traveling at the speed of light, to get to New Horizons.

New Horizons will continue gathering close-encounter data through tomorrow (July 16). It will take up to 16 months for the piano-size probe to beam all of its observations back home to mission control.

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