"This is a great day for APL, Maryland and America."
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) applauded today's NASA launch to Pluto, designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. Senator Mikulski, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, fought to save the mission and provided the federal funding needed when NASA cancelled the project due to budget concerns in 2000.
"When NASA tried to kill this program, I said no. I restored the funding for this mission because it was important for science, exploration and discovery – the very things that make our space program the best in the world," said Senator Mikulski. "Discovery and innovation should be the hallmarks of our space program – not budget cuts and cancelled missions."
Pluto is the last planet in our solar system to be explored and was ranked by the National Academy of Sciences as its top priority for planetary exploration in 2000. This mission could offer a number of clues as to how the universe was formed. The information and data gathered could rewrite textbooks, much the same way the Hubble Telescope has.
"Maryland is the epicenter of NASA's science programs. I fought for Hubble, I fought for Pluto and I will keep fighting for science, innovation and discovery. I will not let NASA back down from its commitment to science – it's too important to Maryland, to America and to the world."
When launched, it will take the mission nine years to reach Pluto traveling at 36,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest spacecraft ever built. The spacecraft will fly by Pluto, its moon (Caron) and two smaller moons, which were discovered by the Hubble Telescope last year. It will not land on Pluto, but will take photographs and sensor readings of the atmosphere and surface of the planet. The total cost of the program is approximately $700 million over 10 years, including the rocket and operational costs.
Senator Mikulski is the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, which funds NASA.