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NASA Delays Launch of Pluto Space Probe for a Second Day

The U.S. space agency NASA delayed the launch Wednesday of a rocket carrying a probe that will study the planet Pluto and its surroundings. VOA's Chris Simkins reports on the mission and the reason for the delays.

NASA's New Horizons probe, sitting atop a Atlas rocket remained on the launch pad Wednesday after flight engineers canceled the schedule launch for a second day. NASA says a control center that manages the mission lost power and the situation was unable to be resolved so the countdown to the launch could resume. High winds at the Cape Canaveral, Florida site forced NASA to scrub the launch on Tuesday.

When the mission gets going the spacecraft will embark on a nine year voyage to the planet Pluto.

The unmanned probe, which is the size of a piano, will conduct fly-by studies of Pluto and its primary moon, Charon. Using seven scientific instruments, New Horizons will gather information about the two bodies' surface, geology and the atmosphere. Data from the space probe will be transmitted back to Earth.

Pluto is the last known plant in the solar system to be explored in part because it is some five billion kilometers from earth.

Alan Sternis, Principal Investigator for the mission, says the space probe can provide researchers with a wealth of new information about the far reaches of the solar system, areas known as the Kuiper Belt.

"It's the history of planetary exploration that nature always rewards us by getting a close up view. And we have never been to this exotica of the Kuiper Belt before. I think we're going to learn a great deal with how the solar system formed, about the bombardment history of the solar system, about how double planets work, about how rapidly escaping atmospheres work. There's so many presents inside the bag that I don't know where we're going to begin."

Pluto was discovered by an American astronomer in 1930. But its only in the last 10 years that scientists realized Pluto may hold many clues as to how the solar system was formed. Scientists say when the New Horizons spacecraft reaches Pluto by 2015 it will literally and figuratively take planetary exploration farther than ever before.