The New Horizons spacecraft will pass within less than 8,000 kilometres of Pluto tomorrow at 1149 GMT, carrying its discoverer Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes along with other relics such as a 1991 postage stamp, “Pluto Not Yet Explored”.
Tombaugh’s wife and children had offered a small portion of his ashes to be placed aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft in a 5 cm capsule.
“Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system's `third zone.' Adelle and Muron's boy, Patricia's husband, Annette and Alden's father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997),” read the inscription on the capsule.
It’s expected that Annette Tombough-Sitze and her brother Alden will be at the flight operation base at Johns Hopkins University. Their mother, Patricia, died three years ago at age 99.
“I think my dad would be thrilled with the New Horizons. I mean, who wouldn't be?” Annette said an interview posted on NASA’s website. “When he looked at Pluto, it was just a speck of light.”
NASA’s spacecraft is also carrying a 29-cent stamp which carries an artist depiction of Pluto as greyish orb with orange spots.
“No stamp has ever travelled this far!” Mark Saunders, a US Postal Service spokesman has told the Associated Press in an email last week.
New Horizons will be at its closest point to Pluto on July 14 when it will be travelling 7,800 kilometres from the planet after having completed a nine and a half year and almost 5 billion kilometre journey.
The $728 million mission, launched in January 2006, will deliver the first detailed information about the dwarf planet.
The latest observations of May 29-30 and June 4 by the probe showed that the Pluto system consists of the planet and its five moons - Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx - but that there no rings or undiscovered moons around the planet.
Although Pluto was discovered in the 1930s by Clyde Tombaugh, its fifth moon Styx was identified only recently in 2012.