NASA's Pluto flyby spacecraft is now awake from its electronic slumber notifying ground controllers on Saturday that it is up to prepare for the initial stages of its key mission due to start by January next year.

New Horizons, which was launched to study dwarf planet Pluto nearly nine years ago, was programmed to wake up at 3 p.m. EST on Dec. 6. By 9:30 p.m. the first word from the spacecraft has arrived informing ground control teams that it is already in active mode.

Transmission signals from New Horizons travel at the speed of light but with the spacecraft being about 3 billion miles away from the Earth and just over 162 million miles from its target dwarf planet, it takes more than four hours before its signals reach NASA's Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.

By 9:53 PM, operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory confirmed that New Horizons has indeed woken up from its sleep and that all its systems function normally setting the stage for the spacecraft's flyby of Pluto.

New Horizons was roused to Russell Watson's "Where My Heart Will Take Me" song joining the league of astronauts in four space shuttle missions who wake up to the voice of the English tenor. Watsons also recorded a special greeting for New Horizons.

"I've played this song to wake astronauts in orbit around the earth but never for a NASA spacecraft waking on its voyage to the farthest reaches of the solar system," Watson said. "It will be cold and dark on Pluto but you won't be alone. You carry the dreams of explorers everywhere."

New Horizons is expected to get nearest Pluto on July 14, 2015, when it will flyby at a distance of 6,200 miles away from the surface of the dwarf planet. The proximity would give the spacecraft the best chances to see Pluto's clouds and terrain including its ice volcanoes that researchers suspect exist.

Following confirmation that New Horizons is active, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern popped a bottle of champagne and offered a toast to the Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission. To mark the special occasion, the mission operations center also played "Where My Heart Will Take Me" after the spacecraft is confirmed to have woken up.

"This is the turning of a page. This is changing from a mission in cruise to a mission at its destination," Stern said.

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