A view from the Mission Operations Center (MOC) a few hours before the New Horizons team hopes to receive confirmation from the spacecraft that it has completed its July 14 flyby of Pluto. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

LAUREL, Md. — Working at the APL media center for the New Horizons mission for more than twelve hours can make it difficult to judge just how interesting the Pluto flyby is to the general public.

Certainly everyone here in his self-selected sample is excited, but what about the person on the street?

So, we decided to ask NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan, who had, among other things, been on WAMU-FM’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” earlier today to discuss the flyby, what her perspective is.

“We were getting a lot of calls in and people were really excited about it,” she said. She added her husband has been “amazed” about the media attention the flyby has received. “People are saying, ‘Wow, this Pluto thing is really cool.’”

“I think this has engaged the public,” she continued. “People love the Pluto story: poor Pluto the underdog.”

Kids in particular, she said, are interested in Pluto, largely because of its “demotion” to dwarf planet by astronomers in 2006. “I think they think its feelings are hurt.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...