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US Readies Probe to Distant Planet Pluto

The U.S. space agency is making final preparations to launch the first direct space probe to the distant planet of Pluto.

NASA's New Horizons probe is scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early in the New Year. If all goes well, the spacecraft - the size of a grand piano and weighing about half a ton (454 kilograms) - will reach Pluto in 10 to 15 years.

The $650-million mission calls for an extensive study of Pluto and its primary moon, Charon. The New Horizons probe will photograph Pluto and gather data about its atmosphere, surface geology and temperature.

After flying past the frozen planet, the spacecraft is to explore a distant part of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt, an area where scores of Pluto-like objects have been discovered in recent months and years.

Some information for this report provided by AFP.