DUNCAN DONUTS, Fla. -- A spacecraft will begin a voyage to Pluto soon, according to NASA.
The craft has arrived at NASA's Florida spaceport from where it was built, at Ernie Spavo's Custom Spacecraft Shop.
NASA calls it the New Horizons space probe. A spokesman said, "We wanted to call it Bippy or Sparky, but those names were already taken by China, which now has two probes they will be sending to Earth."
The 1,000-pound probe, too big for one person to lift, is destined to be shot into space where it begins a 10-year journey to Pluto and its moon Charon.
"We would like it to go faster," said a NASA official who recently had three root canals done on his upper molars, "but space travel is like that. You got to wait, wait, wait because most planets are so darn far away."
New Horizons will haul a suite of seven science instruments to study Pluto and Charon.
Researchers hope the instruments will work. New Horizons will map the surface of Pluto and Charon, as well as drop things onto the surface.
"In order to fully understand the geology and landform history of Pluto and its moon," said a NASA official who suggested the dentist who performed the root canals on the other quoted official, "we have to have some things hit the ground and see what happens.
"Should the objects we drop disappear into the planet, we will know Pluto is not safe to walk upon. The surface could be like deep sand.
"Should the objects bounce and shoot right back up into space we will know that the surface is like a giant trampoline top.
"Should the objects splash, we will know the surface is liquid."
NASA officials said that New Horizons could also visit other rocky objects beyond Pluto's orbit. They all agree that if these rocky objects turn out to be unfriendly alien spaceships, New Horizons will probably be destroyed by strange weapons.
Engineers at NASA's Deep Space Network will track the mission. "We hope to be able to stay in contact that far away," said a network official. "Pluto ain't no Mars. We are talking very, very, very, very, very, very far."
The spacecraft was supposed to be ready last spring, but it arrived with windows installed. Officials saw no use for windows on an unmanned probe and sent it back to the manufacturer. No one took the blame for ordering the windows.
Also, a vital hydrazine propellant will be loaded aboard because it is the best sounding propellant NASA could find. "We went through the other kinds," said another official, "and we felt uncomfortable with propellants that had names like Wilco and Rhino and Buster Branco's."