I, like many people, was excited when ‘New Horizons’ made its flyby past Pluto recently. It was a new set of information to work with, something that hadn’t been accomplished before, and a great step forward for the astronomical community. But it was also more than that. It was another opportunity for us, as a people, to get excited about space and exploration. It was the first time since the landing of the rover on Mars that I’ve seen so many in the public actually interested in what was going to happen, and I believe our society needs that thirst for knowledge.
Unfortunately, now that ‘New Horizons’ has “completed its mission”, the team behind it is having to work to continue learning what’s past Pluto. The next optimal target could be that of MU69, though not much is known about it at the moment. The hesitation to continue comes from cost to keep running ‘New Horizons’ instead of just letting it float into the great beyond.
Here’s the thing: We need it to continue. We need ‘New Horizons’ to keep going until it runs out of fuel. To keep taking pictures and getting as much information as it can to send back to us here on Earth. There’s no telling when or if we’d ever be able to get the chance again. Heck, to date the US has been the only country to walk on our own moon, and we haven’t sent an actual person back in decades. So who knows when we’d be able to take a closer look at anything past our closest dwarf planet?
Our thirst for exploration has never been quenched, but it is slowly decaying. Stories that you read as a kid about explorers who discover new lands and adventure are merely tales now and cannot be dreamed of as a future reality here on Earth. Everything has been discovered, and if it hasn’t, a satellite will take a picture of it soon. But, we still yearn for more. There are even people willing to give up their known existence on our own planet for the possibility of colonizing another, or at the very least, learning more about its effects on human beings.
So why not take the existing power and fuel that ‘New Horizons’ has left to pursue more? There’s always the possibility that we might gain nothing from its further progress. The chances for ‘New Horizons’ to fail completely were there when it first launched out of our orbit in 2006. But the chance to gain an even greater understanding of the unknown is worth it. If we can’t pour our time and effort into learning more about our solar system, galaxy, and even our existence, then what else are we going to do?