cover image Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Alan Stern and David Grinspoon. Picador, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-09896-2

Stern, the leader of the NASA mission to send the first probe to Pluto, and astrobiologist Grinspoon (Earth in Human Hands), who played a small part in the project, manage to make its many technical and bureaucratic roadblocks into a thrilling narrative, despite readers’ awareness of their ultimate success. The science involved in sending the spacecraft, New Horizons, over three billion miles from earth is certainly impressive, representing over two decades of work by a legion of devoted scientists. Their diligence and creativity paid off spectacularly when, in 2015, New Horizons flew by Pluto at 32,000 miles per hour and transmitted spectacular images back to Earth, reawakening a dormant public fascination with space exploration and dramatically increasing scientific knowledge. Stern’s hands-on and passionate involvement with the project from its inception enables him to make potentially dull material—seeking committee approvals, battling for funding, and managing relationships with superiors—as interesting as the science, and he provides a valuable perspective on the practical aspects of getting a venture like this off the ground. This is a future classic of popular science, full of twists and turns and unexpected heroes (a teenager’s passion for Pluto helped influence NASA administrators at a crucial moment), with a dramatic and profound payoff. [em](May) [/em]