'Chasing Pluto': PBS Documentary on Epic New Horizons Flyby Airs Tonight

New Horizons Approaching Pluto (Artist’s Illustration)
Artist's illustration of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft approaching Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015. (Image 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.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.