The 'Pluto Underground,' as the planet’s scientific champions came to be known, campaigned for a resurrection ... Chasing New Horizons turns into a fascinating David versus Goliath story, with Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—the more experienced planetary probe maker with political weight—pitted against a relative newcomer, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory ... Even though we know the final outcome, the story continues to be a nail-biter as the New Horizons mission is canceled twice more. The two authors, with their insider’s perspective, capture the arduous process with great narrative verve.
The book begins 10 days before the planet’s closest approach to Earth when the New Horizons spacecraft suddenly shut itself down. From there, readers are taken back to the conception of a mission to Pluto and on to its eventual triumphal flyby. All of this is told in exhilarating prose that moves this narrative briskly along without getting mired in the tall weeds of technical jargon. One of the great joys of Chasing New Horizons is that it takes for granted that the reader is smart and can follow the few technical points.
With all of the difficulties in the way of the mission, you would think a sense of doom and angst would permeate the story, but it never does. In fact, it’s marked by an overriding sense of unbreakable optimism ... The book is inspiring.
Pluto, now downgraded to the status of a dwarf planet, is billions of miles away from Earth, a fraction of Earth's mass, receives a sliver of Earth's sunlight, and is almost inconceivably cold. The chances that humans will ever establish a base there are correspondingly minuscule ... Stern and Grinspoon concentrate on the heroism of learning, specifically the dogged, day-to-day heroism of the men and women behind the New Horizons spacecraft that in July of 2015 made the first-ever close fly-by of tiny frozen Pluto and sent back large amounts of invaluable data to the specialists who had nervously watched the crafts progress for years.