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Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  1,687 ratings  ·  287 reviews
Alan Stern and David Grinspoon take us behind the scenes of the science, politics, egos, and public expectations that fueled the greatest space mission of our time: New Horizons' misison to Pluto.

On July 14, 2015, something amazing happened. More than 3 billion miles from Earth, a small NASA spacecraft called New Horizons screamed past Pluto at more than 32,000 miles per h
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 1st 2018 by Picador USA
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Average rating 4.36  · 
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Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Chasing New Horizons details the exciting NASA/APL mission that started in the late 1980s with the pitching to NASA of a Pluto mission, and ultimately culminated in New Horizon's successful flyby of Pluto in 2015. Along the way, the book takes us into the inner workings of a space mission to see how it was funded, planned, designed, built, and executed. It was a long and arduous journey, with numerous obstacles and setbacks along the way, which added to make this fascinating account even more th ...more
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book documents the journey of these two authors\ scientists from their realization that Pluto was scientifically interesting but still unexplored in the 80s to the actual flyby in 2015. It starts with a loving tribute to discoverer of Pluto Clyde Tombaugh, whose ashes are on the probe itself, then it proceeds to tell an exciting tale of actually getting it there.

Contrary to popular belief the journey of New Horizons didn't start in 2006. It's start was painfully in 1989. Yes, that is how l
Hai Quan
Jan 13, 2021 rated it did not like it
I am absolutely shuddered to imagine one day man would set their feet into the surface of ANY other planets beside that ball of rock La Lune.

Heaven forbid !

Ain't it enough that man have really, really screwed up big time this planet earth : Deforestation, vicious exploitation of underground mineral deposit, in particular fossil oil,uranium , then burn 'em and use 'em in bombs and drop 'em to decimate 2 cities resulting in almost 200,000 snuffed lives.
The use of fossil oil has polluted precious a
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction-btr
I’m very glad I read this book, it really chronicles how the movement to explore Pluto began 20 years ago and how it was a struggle to finally be able to launch a rocket to explore it and how the result of exploring Pluto launched a fervor in humankind about planet exploration and how in the future the same generation that enjoyed the first clear pictures of Pluto in 2015 could be the one that take us out of earth and into the stars . Very well detailed book with a lot of information that could ...more
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
I always thought that the most difficult part of a space mission was the technical one. Building a machine that could travel millions of kilometers during a decade or more without blowing up.
After reading this book, I believe I was probably wrong. The hard part is the political one, all the effort required to get the mission approved and funded. I really could not believe the amount of approvals and consequent cancellations the New Horizons mission went through, the political machinations it had
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Every once in a while, I wonder where I would have ended up had I stayed at Ohio State instead of joining the Air Force in the mid-80s. My major was astronomy, with a minor in physics, topics which still fascinate me to this day. Maybe I would have ended up on one of these exploration projects... who knows?

Anyway, this is a great book on the trials and tribulations of the Plutophiles, scientists and engineers that pushed NASA l
Kam Yung Soh
An excellent book about the mission to explore Pluto. Starting with the initial desire of Alan Stern to explore Pluto, the book then looks at the bureaucratic, political and technological hurdles the New Horizons mission had to overcome before being built and launched, followed by the mission itself and finally the fly-by of Pluto and the amazing discoveries New Horizons made about the world and beyond.

Chapter 1 looks at the early life of Alan Stern who was fascinated with space from an early ag
May 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Now, let me state up front that these type of books, chronocling scientific research, or events, are hard to write. It's very hard to write a book that can convey a level of excitement and emotion for an event that happened in the past, in which we technically know the outcome, generally filled with more scientific and beaurecratic dealings and most of all, set over a very very long span of time. Chasing New Horizons I think does and doesn't fall into this trap. The fact that it's written by one ...more
Stuart Rodriguez
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In July 2015, the New Horizons space probe reached Pluto after a 10-year voyage and sent back the first clear pictures of our Solar System’s outermost neighbor. This is the inside story of how it happened, written by the scientists involved—but you don’t need to be an astronomer to enjoy this story. This book is exceptionally easy to read and understand, and provides fantastic insight into what it actually took to get this unlikely space mission off the ground. A must-read for fans of space expl ...more
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, space
I read this book because I really enjoyed "Roving Mars" by Steven Squyres and "Curiosity" by Rob Manning. This book was a disappointment.

Those other books were at their best when describing the engineering problems encountered and the way they were solved. They make you feel just a bit like you are personally living through the excitement of the development process vicariously. This book by contrast consists primarily of alternating between self-pity that about the political and bureaucratic hu
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Some good NASA gossip and recalcitrant pioneer attitudes on display here. Loses a star for no substantial information on the probe itself or Pluto for that matter.
Graeme Newell
Aug 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a delightful adventure. So many books written about science and technology are dry tomes with little life. The authors of this book made the entire Pluto mission come alive.

What I enjoyed most was the detailed story of the development of the mission, the building of the spacecraft and the design of the mission. From concept to final flyby, the authors take us on an intricate journey through the entire process. The story had nail-biting cliffhangers, jubilant wins and bone-crushing defeats.
Apr 28, 2018 rated it liked it
As a lifelong space geek, I wanted so badly to absolutely love this book and read about the Pluto mission. However, while the subject was so fantastically interesting, the writing left something to be desired. The first half of the book - before the mission launched into space - reads like just lists of names and job descriptions. And throughout, the switching between third and first person story telling is disjarring, as the layout doesn't always make it clear who talking. It does pick up a lot ...more
David Agranoff
One the hottest debates in the space nerd community over the last couple years surrounds the little planet Pluto. Out at the far reaches of our solar system Pluto has only been known to our science since the 1930's when Clyde Tombaugh using math and an analog telescope proved that there was another object out beyond Neptune. Eventually this planet was given the name Pluto, and in recent years it was demoted from Planet to Dwarf Planet. Look I am not a planetary scientist but being small in my op ...more
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, space
Narrative about the challenges and great success of the first mission to Pluto. I learned a lot and enjoyed hearing the whole story. In an amazing coincidence, I finished reading it right as the spacecraft passed its next target, Ultima Thule, on New Year's Eve! (I promise I did not plan that)

I'm definitely rounding up here, I would have liked more detail in many areas and was a little disappointed in certain parts, but in general it was good. It must be very hard to write these kinds of stories
Mar 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, space
I love reading science-by-scientists books, where we learn the questions modern scientists are asking and the day-by-days tasks and troubles they face to find the answers. This book follows the inspirational New Horizons mission to Pluto (and now, in 2019, to the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule), from the very beginning of planning any mission at all, to securing funding for this mission, to building and launching New Horizons, to its final Pluto flyby. It is a great story.

Compared to other boo
Rick Wilson
Oct 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting look into the 30 year process of lobbying for, building, and eventually launching and piloting a mission to Pluto.

bit dry. But the story is generally well told.
Jared Millet
I really enjoyed this book. I want to start off with that, because the next thing to say is that this isn't a book about Pluto, despite the cover. Pluto is the goal, but not the subject. Instead, this book is about the painstaking, nerve-wracking, soul-crushing work it takes to get a successful space mission off the ground. I've been reading and watching documentaries lately about the various exploratory probes sent to all corners of the solar system. None have been quite so nail-biting as the s ...more
Brian McGrane
Jun 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's an amazing story that was quite gripping at times, and I recommend the book. The audiobook narrator (one of the authors) is horrendous and they should have gotten a pro reader. It works best if you can play it at 1.25X speed. Alan, the mission PI, is a little too egotistical, sentimental, and superstitious, but maybe that's the kind of guy who pushes a mission forward until completion for 26 years. ...more
Todd Martin
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was ok

New Horizons is a space probe launched by NASA in 2006. Its mission was to perform a fly-by of Pluto nine years later, with the primary objective of:
• Characterizing the geology and morphology of Pluto and its moon Charon
• Mapping the chemical compositions of Pluto and Charon surfaces
• Characterizing the atmosphere of Pluto
The mission was roughly modeled on the Voyager program and billed as an exploration of the final planet of our solar system (an irony given that Pluto was later downgraded to
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
While there were parts that were dry and technical, the whole things was just incredibly awe-inspiring. There's so much information crammed into this book, and that was gathered from this "quick" mission. Pluto is amazing! ...more
Dan Ust
Jun 01, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Detailed story of how the project came about and was executed. I find this story intrinsically interesting, especially on how problems were dealt with as they arose. Don’t expect as much on Pluto; this is mainly about the spacecraft itself.

By the way, sometimes they cram too much in, especially when it comes to the people involved. I know they wanted to give credit where credit is due, but much of that could’ve been moved to the acknowledgements. In terms of writing, their prose is serviceable.
May 21, 2018 rated it did not like it
Chasing New Horizons could be so much more but instead is a laundry list of names, and places and an almost ad nauseam self-congratulation from beginning till the very end.

The authors decide to describe in excruciating detail their plight to build the probe while writing very little about science. It gets tedious. Not even the "out of lock" situation could pique my curiosity again.

And after a mention that a male scientist (who had very little or nothing to do with the project) has brought his h
Scott Kardel
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: astronomy, space
Chasing New Horizons is the tale of how the New Horizons mission to Pluto came about and was flown. It wonderfully shows off just how difficult the mission was to pull off, not just technically, but in dealing with financial and bureaucratic challenges too. I very much enjoyed this history, not just for the inside look at how it all happened, but in giving an inspirational story that shows that with hard work and perseverance we can achieve great things.
Ben Zimmerman
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is top notch popular science writing. It is filled with awesome descriptions of the science and technological development, but also with so many riveting human and emotional factors. The project development is deeply inspiring as a researcher myself. I feel like this should be required reading for all aspiring academics who rely on public funding. You see all the political savvy, public outreach, extraordinary perseverance, and awesome work and critical analysis that is required to make a p ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating insider's experience from the mission conception to reaching Pluto! I totally enjoyed reading 'Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto' by Alan Stern. I learned so much about NASA and how missions come about within the committee red-tape. They managed to bypass the usual pat on the head to actually getting folks excited about the need to explore the remainder of the planets in our solar system. It is somewhat fascinating how when the concept was first developing ...more
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent, excellent book. This decades-spanning narrative of the New Horizons mission to explore Pluto is full of technical details which put the scope of things into perspective, as well as the very human story of the people who made it happen (fun fact: both coauthors were involved, with Alan Stern as the head of the mission). As mentioned, the book contains quite a bit of technical detail about the science and mechanics of planning and funding the mission (more than once), building and testi ...more
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book on the Pluto system (the outermost planet in oursolar system) and the New Horizons mission that was the first to explore it in 2015, after a 9 year transit from earth, with a flyby of 7 scientific instruments.

Brings out the heroic persistence needed over decades to gain support for the mission, design and build the spacecraft, and manage the mission through its many difficult stages. Discusses the design tradeoffs needed to meet the cost and schedule requirements in depth.

Anna Mcallister
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
While I did feel like an idiot while reading this book because of all the things I feel like I should have known but didn’t.... (have I been under a rock when it comes to things happening in space exploration? Apparently, yes, I have) I really enjoyed this book and learning about the New Horizons mission and listening to it with the boys in the car sometimes has amped up space interest around here in general. We’ve been reading about the most recent New Horizons findings and watching videos on p ...more
Scott Eggerding
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I bought this book for my daughter who aspires to be an exoplanetologist. She is in 7th grade and is truly inspired by the science behind space exploration. She started the book before I did and said it confirmed what she wants to do with her life. How could a book written by engineers and scientists hold her attention? Because this is a very readable science book full of drama, challenges, and the ultimate prize of success. Really an informative, fun and thrilling ride!
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Sol Alan Stern is an American engineer and planetary scientist. He is the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Chief Scientist at Moon Express.

Articles featuring this book

Alan Stern is the coauthor of the new book Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto, which gives an insider’s...
65 likes · 1 comments
“There is a phrase from World War I describing warfare as “months of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.” The same applies to long spacecraft missions. And it was a long and frankly terrifying hour as they awaited the hoped-for signal to return from New Horizons.” 1 likes
“When word of the astronomers’ vote in Prague reached the New Horizons team, reactions ranged from indifferent (“Who cares what astronomers think? They’re not the experts in this.”), to bemused, to annoyed, to seriously pissed off. As Fran Bagenal succinctly put it, “Dwarf people are people. Dwarf planets are planets. End of argument.” 1 likes
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