NASA, space enthusiasts ready for New Horizons’ historic Pluto flyby

This July 8, 2015 image provided by NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute shows Pluto, right, and its moon, Charon, from the New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) combined with lower-resolution color information from the spacecraft's Ralph instrument. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI via AP)

OUTER SPACE (MEDIA GENERAL) – NASA is prepared for one of the biggest payoffs in the agency’s storied history. On Tuesday, the New Horizons spacecraft, which has travelled more than 3 billion miles in the course of more than nine years, will send back the first close-up images of Pluto.

NASA is hailing the mission as one of the biggest planetary unveilings in 25 years – since Voyager 2 flew past Neptune. The spacecraft is loaded with some of science’s most powerful instruments with hopes of gathering new information on the icy planet.

Science enthusiasts can watch coverage of the Pluto flyby online at NASA TV from 7:30-9 a.m.

Johns Hopkins project scientist Hal Weaver told The Associated Press this mission, which launched in 2006, should give us the most in-depth information and photos of Pluto to date.

“The science team is just drooling over these pictures,” Weaver said. “We’re going to rewrite the book (on Pluto). This is it – this is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see it.”

Weaver and his counterparts have waited for this moment a long time. Forced to line up precise coordinates for launch patterns, the spacecraft’s launch was delayed by a year, but now the nine-year journey is almost over. Soon, New Horizons will be ready to fulfill its mission.

Even in the science community, nine years is a pretty long wait. New Horizons launched January 19, 2006. Here are some things that have happened while New Horizons, which is travelling at more than 36,000 miles per hour, has made its long trek to Pluto. (Scroll through the slideshow below.)

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