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Pluto mission science center dedicated to Clyde Tombaugh

The science operations center for NASA's upcoming New Horizons mission to Pluto has been dedicated to Clyde Tombaugh, discoverer of the planet, said planetary scientist Alan Stern, who is leading the team of scientists developing the mission.



Planetary scientist Alan Stern, center, presents a plaque to Patsy Tombaugh, left, and Annette Tombaugh-Sitze, dedicating the science operations center for NASA's upcoming Pluto mission to Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet. (NMSU Photo)

Stern made the announcement following a public lecture at New Mexico State about the Pluto mission. He presented a commemorative plaque to Patsy Tombaugh, the astronomer's widow, and Annette Tombaugh-Sitze, their daughter.

When the New Horizons team first began planning the mission, "we asked Clyde Tombaugh to be on our team and he agreed," Stern said. Tombaugh died at the age of 90 in January 1997, before NASA approved the Pluto mission.

"We wanted to honor him in some way," Stern said. "So instead of having an SOC (science operations center), our mission will have a T-SOC, the Tombaugh Science Operations Center."

Stern's presentation at New Mexico State took place Feb. 4, the anniversary of Tombaugh's birth. The astronomer was 24 years old when he discovered Pluto in 1930 while working at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. He joined the New Mexico State faculty in the 1950s after coming to Las Cruces to help with rocket testing at White Sands Missile Range.

Stern, director of the Southwest Research Institute's Department of Space Studies in Boulder, Colo., said the New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2006. It will take the craft 10 years to reach Pluto at an average speed of 40,000 miles an hour.

The Tombaugh Science Operations Center, located in Boulder, Colo., will be responsible for generating scientific instrument observing plans, for data archiving and reduction, and for supporting scientific investigators using New Horizons data for the flyby of Jupiter in 2007, the flyby of Pluto and its moon Charon in 2016, and at Kuiper Belt Object flybys thereafter.

Photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/tombaugh_stern.jpg.
CUTLINE: Planetary scientist Alan Stern, center, presents a plaque to Patsy Tombaugh, left, and Annette Tombaugh-Sitze, dedicating the science operations center for NASA's upcoming Pluto mission to Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet. (NMSU Photo)

Karl Hill
Feb. 8, 2002