HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center celebrated the New Horizons spacecraft making the closest ever pass to Pluto on Tuesday with an event called Plutopalooza.
They had all kinds of space themed activities for kids.
They have reason to celebrate. The New Horizons team works out of Maryland, but Marshall Space Flight Center still plays a big role.
Brian Key is the Deputy Program Manager of the Planetary Missions Office at Marshall. He explains, "New Horizons is one of the missions within the new frontiers program, which is part of the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall."
To be clear, the science, the studying, that's not us. Instead, Key explains, "We provide, on behalf of NASA headquarters, the management oversight of the New Horizons mission."
So as the investigative team looks to the sky, Marshall helps keep them grounded.
Key adds, "We also help the project when it gets in trouble or when it needs expertise that we can provide."
Because let's be honest, when you're hurling a baby grand piano size spacecraft through the solar system at nearly 40-thousand miles an hour -- there's not a ton of people you can ask for help.
But we do have a few here.
Key says, "If we see a problem coming from our experience with other missions, we provide some insight into the project, so they can make whatever changes they need to make."
All help is appreciated. After all, Key points out, "This was a very difficult mission."
Even for insiders who see history beamed down in space transmissions all the time, like Key, "Really, the most impressive part was that we've been able to pull it off."
Just the "simple stuff" poses huge problems. As Key notes, "Just the planning aspects of flying three-billion miles and not running into something, that's just amazing."
Plus, it took nine years just to get to Pluto, so at the end you better get the data. Key adds, "Being able to build the instruments to take all of the information at Pluto in the matter of a hundredth or a thousandth of a second as it flew by, that's something that just boggles the mind."
It really does.