From the March 2015 issue

Alan Stern: New Horizons and Pluto

The planetary scientist and head of the New Horizons mission previews the historic Pluto flyby this summer, explains why the IAU got the definition of a planet wrong, and shares how he and his colleagues are trying to widen space research funding.
By | Published: March 9, 2015 | Last updated on May 18, 2023

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Superstars of Astronomy: Alan SternDownload
Alan Stern
Rayna Tedford; podcast music provided by Getty Images
Alan Stern is a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He’s best know as the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to the Pluto system, which NASA launched in 2006 and will finally reach its target in a milestone flyby of the dwarf planet July 14.

In this hourlong interview with Editor David J. Eicher, Stern shares his background and the roundabout way he got into planetary science, specifically smaller bodies in the solar system. He then turns to the history of the New Horizons mission [13:30] before explaining what the flyby will entail, including a peek at some of the spacecraft’s 1,000 science observations [17:10]. Halfway through the conversation, Stern shares his opinion of the 2006 IAU decision to “demote” Pluto and what impact New Horizons could have on the definition of a planet [32:00]. Finally, Stern turns to his other big project these days, the space-funding project Uwingu, which aims to raise money for research and education by getting more people connected with the sky.

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