NASA to kick off new year with historic flyby of faraway world


NASA confirmed Friday that it will broadcast back to Earth details of its historic New Year’s Day mission to the farthest world ever explored by humankind, quelling fears that the government shutdown would make that impossible.

The agency’s New Horizons spacecraft will zip past a scrawny, icy object nicknamed Ultima Thule — 1 billion miles beyond Pluto and an astounding 4 billion miles from Earth — soon after the stroke of midnight, and the event will in fact be visible on the agency’s social-media platforms.

“Expect to see the @NASANewHorizons social media accounts continue to operate,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Friday tweet. “The contract for these activities was forward funded. This applies to @OSIRISREx and NASA TV too. @NASA will continue to stun the world with its achievements!”

In since-deleted tweets from Wednesday, Bridenstine and NASA announced that the agency wouldn’t be able to broadcast the event, and viewers would have to follow the missions’ updates through their partner, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the outlet reported.

Though NASA’s platforms will now be in operation, APL will still cover the mission on its YouTube channel.

Still, only 3,000 NASA employees are working or “on call” without pay, as the shutdown — over an impasse between President Trump and Democrats over funding for the border wall — drags on.

Ultima Thule dates all the way back to the solar system’s origin 4.5 billion years ago, and no spacecraft has visited anything so primitive.

NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft, about the size of a baby grand piano, in 2006. Nine years later, it flew past Pluto and provided the first close-up views of the dwarf planet.