The 85th Joseph Henry Lecture

The Exploration of Pluto

S. Alan Stern

Videography by Nerine and Robert Clemenzi and Onyx Lee, Edited by Nerine Clemenzi
Copyright © Philosophical Society of Washington.  All rights reserved.

Sponsored by The Policy Studies Organization
In Cooperation with the American Public University

About the Lecture


New Horizons is NASA’s historic $723M mission to explore the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt. The fastest spacecraft ever launched, it left Earth on 19 January 2006.  It made the first exploration of the Pluto system, 3 billion miles from Earth, in 2015, culminating with a highly successful flyby inside the orbits of all five of Pluto’s moons on July 14th.  The spacecraft carries a sophisticated payload of imagers and other scientific instruments that have revolutionized our knowledge of Pluto and its five moons.  This lecture will describe the history of the mission, the science behind it, the capabilities of the instrument payload, its encounter with Pluto, and the major scientific discoveries by New Horizons to date.  The lecture will also outline the proposed New Horizons extended mission to fly across the Kuiper Belt, exploring even further into space beyond the Pluto system.


About the Speaker

Dr. Alan Stern

S. Alan Stern is a planetary scientist, space program executive, aerospace consultant, and author.  He leads NASA’s New Horizons mission to the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt.  He also is CEO of Uwingu and of The Golden Spike, and he heads a private consulting service to clients such as Ball Aerospace, Johns Hopkins, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Moon Express, and The Google Lunar X-Prize team.  In addition, he serves as Associate Vice President and Special Assistant to the President at the Southwest Research Institute, Chief Scientist of World View, and Chief Scientist of the Florida Space Institute. Previously he served as chief of NASA's space science missions.

His academic research has focused on studies of the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud, comets, the satellites of the outer planets, the Pluto system, and the search for evidence of solar systems around other stars. He has also worked on spacecraft rendezvous theory, terrestrial polar mesospheric clouds, galactic astrophysics, and studies of tenuous satellite atmospheres, including the atmosphere of the moon.

He is an author on more than 230 technical papers and 40 popular articles. He has given over 300 technical talks and over 150 popular lectures and speeches about astronomy and the space program. He also has written two books, The U.S. Space Program After Challenger and Pluto and Charon: Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System, and he is Editor of three technical volumes and three collections of scientific popularizations.

He is a fellow of the AAAS and of the Royal Astronomical Society. He has been awarded NASA's Von Braun Aerospace Achievement Award, the Smithsonian Magazine’s American Ingenuity Award (2015), the American Astronautical Society's Sagan Memorial Award (2016), and he was named to the Time 100 in 2007.

Alan earned two BS degrees from the University of Texas, and MS degrees and a PhD in Aerospace Engineering and Atmospheric Sciences and from the Univeristy of Colorado.

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