U.S. cable net National Geographic Channel is teaming up with scientists at Johns Hopkins and NASA to capture some of the first clear images and data ever recorded of Pluto.
Set to premiere on July 14 – the same day the New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to fly past the dwarf planet in an iconic journey – the Bigger Bang Communications-produced special Mission Pluto is to cover the event from start to finish. The special will air globally across National Geographic Channel in 170 countries on July 19.
According to a release by the broadcaster, the project is nine years in the making and cost US$700 million. Brain Games host Jason Silva (pictured) is to present the special, which finds Nat Geo teaming with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in conjunction with NASA, to broadcast images of the planet that, thus far, has escaped even the high-powered lens of the Hubble Telescope.
The Pluto-bound New Horizons took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2006 to begin a three-billion-mile trip flying through space faster than any man-made object has ever previously traveled.
According to NASA, the spacecraft is scheduled to make its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, when it is expected to “speed by the dwarf planet at close to nine miles per second without any means of stopping.” The fly-by will take less than two hours, creating a tight window for the spacecraft to photograph Pluto, map the surface, analyze the atmosphere, and examine the geology of the surface.
In addition, signals between New Horizons and the team on Earth take four and a half hours to make the three-billion-mile journey, which means that while the spacecraft carries out its final mission, the team must wait for what they hope will be clear images of the planet.
Serving as executive producer for Bigger Bang Communications is Iain Riddick, while Simon Young is exec producing for National Geographic Channels International. The commissioning editor on the special is Carolyn Payne. For National Geographic Channels U.S., executive producer and VP of development and special projects is Allan Butler.
“The people on this team, most of them have worked on [the mission] for a very big portion of their careers,” said mission leader Alan Stern, who has taken part in 24 previous NASA missions, in a statement. “When you put that much time and effort into a project, you’re pretty excited when you’re on Pluto’s doorstep.”