NASA announced this morning that the New Horizon expedition has failed to capture the closest images of Pluto after an optical engineer failed to remove the lens cap from the probe’s camera.
The flyby photos were scheduled to happen at 7:49 a.m. ET this morning, NASA decided to engage the mechanical on the New Horizon probe between 11:52 p.m. last night and 7:31 a.m. this morning due to a debris field near the probe’s path.
“We didn’t want to take chances on breaking a lens, so we decided to engage the cap,” chief NASA engineer Dan Truman tells us. “Because of the 13 hour delay we are looking at a 26+ hour window where we have no images. So what we have now is really the best it will get.”
NASA says the last images fed back from New Horizon were shortly before closing the lens cap last night, and reveal images of the planet from 350,000 miles away. These are still the closest ever, but lack the overall resolution and quality expected from today’s images.
The images from New Horizon do take 13 hours to transport back to earth, so the world will not see the completely black images for certain until around 8:53 p.m. ET. The probe does however send back smaller mechanical data at a higher frequency that takes around an hour to receive which was able to inform the ground crew that the lens cap was not removed.
“I can’t tell you how many times I have missed a shot by forgetting to remove the lens cap,” Truman tells us. “Thankfully with family photos I can have them just wait a minute while I take it off and we do it again. I guess we will try this again in another 9 years, hopefully we do not do something stupid like forget to turn on the flash next time, but we will remember that lens cap. Sorry folks.”