Washington DC: After NASA's New Horizons spacecraft phoned home to confirm the successful and historic first-ever flyby of Pluto, the mission team called for celebrations.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, 'I know today we've inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come. This is a historic win for science and for exploration. We've truly, once again raised the bar of human potential.'
The preprogrammed 'phone call' -- a 15-minute series of status messages beamed back to mission operations at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland through NASA's Deep Space Network -- ended a very suspenseful 21-hour waiting period. New Horizons had been instructed to spend the day gathering the maximum amount of data, and not communicating with Earth until it was beyond the Pluto system.
This photo obtained July 14, 2015 from NASA shows New Horizons' look at Pluto's Charon-facing hemisphere. Pic/AFP
John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said that a new era of solar system exploration is just beginning. NASA missions will unravel the mysteries of Mars, Jupiter, Europa and worlds around other suns in the coming years.
President Obama tweeted on the greatest accomplishment and wrote, 'just had its first visitor! Thanks @NASA ' it's a great day for discovery and American leadership.'
Pluto is the first Kuiper Belt object visited by a mission from Earth. New Horizons will continue on its adventure deeper into the Kuiper Belt, where thousands of objects hold frozen clues as to how the solar system formed.
New Horizons is collecting so much data it will take 16 months to send it all back to Earth.
The New Horizons mission updates can be followed on Twitter using the hashtag #PlutoFlyby, as well as on Facebook.