A Chat with Mr. Pluto

Recently, I had the incredible opportunity of getting to interact in a closed room discussion with Dr. Henry Throop, a senior scientist and adviser on NASA’s New Horizons mission. He had, on the previous day, given a guest lecture at Pragyan ’17 about his experiences with the exploration of Pluto, and the grand success of the mission.

Beautiful Little Pluto

During 2015, the world received some historic photographs of of our beloved ninth-no-more planet, and we learned quite a bit about this new world. Pluto was predicted to be boring a rocky sphere covered with impact craters, but we couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Pluto is an active changing entity, with flowing glaciers and infant mountains! We also found out that Pluto has not just one, but five moons! Our guest Dr. Throop also happened to be a co-discoverer of one of those moons (Styx). After his incredible lecture, a group of space enthusiasts, including me, got to talk with him more personally, and ask him questions on a plethora of technical topics. He answered questions on topics like interplanetary travel, the New Horizons mission, privatisation of space flight, influence of the government on NASA’s agenda, etc.

Ji and Me

Dr. Throop turned out to be one of the most enthusiastic men I’ve ever met, and his love for the subject and his charisma led to some very enlightening discussions. He talked about the science that was done when New Horizons was making it’s Pluto encounter, and about all the different instruments and components that had to be perfectly calibrated to ensure a smooth mission. He talked about the mysteries still surrounding Pluto, like it’s active surface features and contrasting moon Charon. He talked about how the administration plans space missions, and explained the complex hierarchy of decision makers that missions must pass through before being confirmed. He talked about the use of solar energy as opposed to nuclear fuels on long distance space missions. He talked about the orbital mechanics of the New Horizons mission trajectory, and how it compares with similar explorations like Pioneer and Voyager. He talked about the use of robots and rovers for planetary missions instead of sending humans, and explained the financial constraints and risks involved in sending humans beyond the Earth. If only classes were this interesting!

After the discussion, we all got some sweet Curiosity Rover stickers. It’s already up on my cupboard door.

The work that NASA does has always been my greatest inspiration, and getting to talk to a scientist, let alone someone as fun and energetic as Henry Throop, is really something I will always cherish. I was quite sad when the organisers came and told me that we were running out of time and that I had to stop asking more questions!

My sincere thanks to Pragyan and the Guest Lectures team for this awesome opportunity. This man’s enthusiasm for space and science has made my own stronger than ever.


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