This year marks a landmark event in the history of space exploration. After a nine year journey across the deepest stretches of the galaxy, a specially designed rocket will glide past the distant planet of Pluto on 14 July 2015. The new documentary The Year of Pluto outlines the decades of preparation that have transpired to bring NASA to this milestone, and explores the possibilities of discovery that may lie in wait.
"For the first time ever, we will be able to fly by a brand new object," testifies James Green, Director of Planetary Science for NASA, "and understand what the outer parts of the solar system are all about." Our quest for understanding enjoyed its initial breakthrough in 1930 when the planet was first discovered by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh. Knowledge of the region was further amplified in subsequent years as scientists uncovered the Kuiper belt - a wide swath of small formations and moons which surround Pluto.
What do Pluto and its moons look like, and what revelations await through a collection of data around their orbit? The hugely ambitious mission to find those answers began in January of 2006 as NASA mounted the New Horizons project. Originated by a small team of eager and endlessly curious researchers, New Horizons hopes to write the defining chapter on a region of space which has gone largely unconsidered.
"The thing that drew me to it the most was the fact that we knew so little," says Marc Buie, a lead co-investigator of the project and one of the film's many learned interview subjects. "Here's the frontier." The project has endured its fair share of challenges, including the construction of a new and revolutionary spacecraft and a careful consideration of the data to be collected in this initial groundbreaking voyage.
This moment in space exploration history has been hard fought, and is made possible by the tireless efforts of thousands of intensely inventive scientists, researchers, scholars and manufacturers. The Year of Pluto pays tribute to their sacrifice and determination while celebrating the unquenchable spirit that drives our search for the unknown.