On Monday, February 4, on what would
have been the 96th birthday of Pluto’s discoverer, Clyde W. Tombaugh,
NASA’s New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission team announced the dedication
of its Science Operations Center in his honor.

“Henceforth, the New Horizons Science Operations Center will be known as the
Tombaugh Science Operations Center, or TSOC,” said Dr. Alan Stern, director
of the Space Studies Department at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and
principal investigator for New Horizons. The New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt
mission is now in preliminary development for NASA. If approved and funded
for construction later this year, it would launch in January 2006.

In March 1930 the astronomical community was stunned by the discovery of the
ninth planet, Pluto. This discovery by Tombaugh, who at the time was at the
Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., culminated a quarter-century-long
search for a planet beyond Neptune. Pluto is the only planet discovered by
an American. Tombaugh died in 1997 at age 90.

“Clyde Tombaugh is an astronomer’s hero — a farm boy with sharp eyes and a
keen mind whose persistence was rewarded with a major discovery,” said Dr.
Fran Bagenal of the University of Colorado, New Horizons co-investigator and
lead scientist for the mission’s Education and Public Outreach program.


Stern said that Tombaugh’s planetary discovery was named Pluto on the
suggestion of Venetia Burney, an English schoolgirl. “The amazing thing is
that 72 years after Clyde’s discovery, children still love Pluto. It’s their
favorite planet,” said Stern.

The Tombaugh Science Operations Center, located in Boulder, will be
responsible for generating scientific instrument observing plans, for data
archiving and reduction, and for supporting scientific investigators using
New Horizons data for the flyby of Jupiter in 2007, the flyby of Pluto and
its moon Charon in 2016, and at Kuiper Belt Object flybys thereafter.

A TSOC dedication ceremony was held February 4 in Las Cruces, N.M., the home
of Tombaugh’s widow, Patsy, and their children, Annette Tombaugh-Sitz and
Alden Tombaugh. Clyde Tombaugh was a professor at New Mexico State
University in Las Cruces for more than 30 years. Mrs. Tombaugh accepted a
plaque from Stern commemorating the dedication of the TSOC.

Pluto is the most distant known planet and the largest member of the Kuiper
Belt. Kuiper Belt Objects — a class of objects composed of material believed
to have been left over after the formation of the other planets — have never
been exposed to the higher temperatures and solar radiation levels of the
inner solar system. Pluto has large quantities of ices of nitrogen and
simple molecules containing combinations of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen,
necessary precursors of life on Earth. The gases comprising these ices would
be largely lost to space if Pluto had come close to the sun. Instead they
remain on Pluto as a sample of the primordial material that set the stage
for the evolution of the solar system as it exists today.

SwRI leads the New Horizons team, which also includes major partners at The
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.; Stanford
University, Palo Alto, Calif.; Ball Aerospace Corp., Boulder; the NASA
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; and the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab will
build the New Horizons spacecraft and operate it in flight. More information
on the New Horizons mission can be found at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu.

Editors: The plaque presented to Patsy Tombaugh in honor of her husband,
Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, can be viewed at


SwRI is an independent, nonprofit, applied research and development
organization based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 2,700 employees
and an annual research volume of more than $315 million.


Deborah Deffenbaugh

(210) 522-2046


Alan Stern, Ph.D.

(303) 546-9670