Passage to Pluto
If Pluto’s discoverer had lived to see the planet downgraded to a ‘dwarf’, he could have taken consolation from the fact that he will be the first person not only to have seen it but to travel through its orbit.
Discovery of a planet or celestial body must be a bittersweet experience. Unlike the Earth-bound explorers of history, space pioneers never get to visit the far-flung objects they’ve discovered in the seemingly endless darkness of the solar system and beyond.
However Clyde Tombaugh will come pretty close. Tombaugh first observed Pluto in 1930, when he was 24 years old and fortunate to have found work at the Lowell Observatory despite not having had the means to go to college. He died in 1997; nine years later NASA launched the New Horizons space probe bound for Pluto. On board is a sample of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes.
New Horizons is scheduled to come closest to Pluto (less than 10,000km) in July 2015 before heading past and eventually travelling out of the solar system, giving Clyde Tombaugh the most far-reaching space burial to date.