Correction appended, July 14, 2015
After nine-and-a-half years, 3 billion miles and heart-stopping drops in communication, the moment has arrived: New Horizons, NASA’s spacecraft designed to explore the furthest reaches of our solar system, passed Pluto at 7:49 a.m. ET on Tuesday.
“It should be a day of incredible pride,” Charlie Bolden, NASA’s chief administrator, announced on NASA TV amid jubilant applause and cheers.
The spacecraft’s travel was meticulously planned and on point: it arrived one minute before scheduled arrival and used a “36-by-57 mile window in space” to get to its destination—a feat NASA compared to “the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.” At its closest approach, New Horizons was about 7,750 miles above Pluto’s surface, approximately the distance between New York and Mumbai.
New Horizons’ journey to Pluto had reached a turning point last week when images of its nearing proximity to the planet arrived, offering scientists glimpses of a mysterious planet astronomers know very little about. With New Horizons’ approach, the United States has solidified its role as a leader in space exploration, becoming the first and only country to have sent a spacecraft to every planet in the solar system.
The images of the dwarf planet are stunning and feature what many astronomy geeks have dubbed a heart in the lower hemisphere, perhaps a crater.
New Horizons has thus far traveled 3 billion miles.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the time New Horizons passed Pluto on Tuesday. It was 7:49 a.m.