CAPE CANAVERAL —
The spacecraft that gave us the first close-up views of Pluto now has a much smaller object in its sights.
NASA's New Horizons is set to fire its thrusters Thursday afternoon, putting it on track to fly past a recently discovered, less than 30-mile-wide object out on the solar system frontier. The close encounter with the object known as 2014 MU69 would occur in 2019. It orbits nearly 1 billion miles beyond Pluto.
Flight controllers already have sent commands for the course change. In all, four maneuvers will be needed. Thursday's is the first.
New Horizons became Pluto's first visitor from planet Earth in July. The team plans to formally ask NASA next year to fund the mission extension for studying MU69. Scientists promise a better name before showtime.