New Horizons Carries Remains of Pluto’s Discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh

While we wait for New Horizons to begin its flyby of Pluto, there are some sentiments of the more Earthly persuasion for us to consider. Firstly, Clyde Tombaugh, the ashes of the man who first discovered that distant, icy world in its lonely dance with Charon 85 years ago, are contained in the spacecraft. His remains will have reached Pluto’s system on the fourteenth of this month.


Also stored on New Horizons is the 1991 U.S. postage stamp nearing its end of use date in this country. It’s mantra–”Pluto Not Yet Explored”–is brazenly etched at bottom. There are also two state quarters, one of Florida, where the probe was launched, and also Maryland, HQ of New Horizons’ producers and flight control.

In fact, a total of nine lovely mementos are stored aboard the New Horizons, and this number was chosen intentionally.


Upon New Horizons’ launch from Cape Canaveral on January 19th of 2006, Pluto was still officially the ninth planet in our solar system. Its present, demoted status as a dwarf planet was assigned seven months post-launch.

It was Tombaugh’s widow and two children who offered an ounce of the man’s ashes for his final journey to Pluto. The farm-boy-cum-astronomer’s ashes are sealed away in a 2-inch aluminum capsule inscribed with the following words:

“Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system’s ‘third zone.’ Adelle and Muron’s boy, Patricia’s husband, Annette and Alden’s father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997)”


Annette Tombaugh-Sitze and her younger brother Alden are in their seventies, but still plan on being present at the flight operation base at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, when Tuesday’s historic flyby occurs. The two’s mother passed away in 2012 at ninety-nine years of age.

Annette spoke of the event in a NASA interview posted online: “I think my dad would be thrilled with the New Horizons. I mean, who wouldn’t be? When he looked at Pluto, it was just a speck of light.”


The Pluto-stamp mentioned above depicts the planet as a gray hue with orange flecks, which was an artist’s best rendering based on what NASA knew of the tiny planet pre-1991, which, to be earnest, didn’t amount to much. Only recently has New Horizons revealed the planet to be a copper-colored, icy and bright world. However, Mark Saunders, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service said in an email last week that “[n]o stamp has ever traveled this far!”

A piece of SpaceShipOne has also been attached to New Horizons. SpaceShipOne was the first manned private space plane to reach suborbital flight back in 2004, winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
New Horizons also contains two U.S. flags and two CDs, the first of which contains photos of the New Horizons’ team members, the second contains the names of 434,738 names of the people who signed up online in advance.

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