It has now been over 9 years since its launch and NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has traveled more than 3 billion miles at a cost of over $700 million in order to send us back a clear picture of Pluto. Will the new data from the spacecraft have the potential to change Pluto’s planetary status? The real question is; ‘does Pluto’s status really matter now?’
Pluto had been classified as a planet since it discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. But in August 2006 the International Astronomical Union downgraded the status of Pluto to that of “dwarf planet.” That change in status has been a heated point of discussion ever since, even outside of the planetary sciences community. In fact, in 2006 “Plutoed” was chosen as the Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. The society defined “to pluto” as:
“To demote or devalue someone or something, as happened to Pluto when the IAU decided it no longer met its definition of a planet.”
Human nature is funny that way. Many of us do not do well with change, and once we understand “the facts,” we don’t want them to move, shift, or be downgraded.
But we do love a good story…
And the New Horizon story is more than Big Data; it’s about Long Distance Data. At approximately 2 kilobits per second it will take until late 2016 to bring down all the encounter data stored on the spacecraft’s recorders. That means many of the missions major discoveries will be made well after New Horizon flies through the Pluto system. Then, like the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft, New Horizon will eventually escape the Sun’s gravity and fly out into interstellar space – never to return to our solar system.
Along with the advanced instruments and systems that enable New Horizons’ historic exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the spacecraft carries nine mementos:
- A portion of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes and an inscription
- A “Send Your Name to Pluto” CD-ROM with more than 434,000 names of people who wanted to participate in this great journey of exploration
- A CD-ROM with project personnel pictures and messages
- A Florida state quarter, representing where New Horizons was launched
- A Maryland state quarter, representing where New Horizons was built
- A cutout piece of the historic SpaceShipOne and an inscription
- Two U.S. flags
- The 1991 U.S. stamp proclaiming, “Pluto: Not Yet Explored”
So, at this point in my post, do you really care if Pluto is classified as a planet or dwarf planet? Or is the New Horizon adventure what’s capturing your imagination? Yes, it’s the emotional connection through exploration and adventure that has your attention now. Remember that point the next time you try to lead with facts, figures and logic to persuade your prospect to buy.