As NASA's New Horizons spacecraft gets closer to its target, Pluto, it carries with it the ashes of the man who discovered the dwarf planet, Clyde Tombaugh.

When Tombaugh died in 1997, he requested his ashes go to space. So in 2006, NASA fittingly put his remains on their New Horizons spacecraft with its final destination being Pluto. Now New Horizons is only a few months away from Pluto, and Tombaugh will finally visit the very thing that made him famous.

Tombaugh is most well known for discovering Pluto in 1930. However, he also discovered many asteroids and was one of the first astronomers pushing for research into UFO's (unidentified flying objects).

NASA attached a small container with Tombaugh's remains to the inside of New Horizons' upper deck with the inscription: "Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system's 'third zone.'"

Of course, Pluto is now controversial, as it was once a planet, but was downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006, shortly after New Horizons set sail for it. However, astronomers, and NASA, believe that even as a dwarf planet, it's still important.

Pluto is the largest object in the Kuiper belt, an area of space on the edge of our solar system. The debris in the Kuiper belt contains material from the birth of our solar system nearly 5 billion years ago. It's even possible that organic material exists here, suggesting that objects from this part of space seeded life on Earth.

New Horizons is the first spacecraft to explore this area of space and will deliver some of the first high resolution photos of Pluto.

"Right now, what we know about Pluto could be written on the back of a postage stamp," says Dr. Colleen Hartman, Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "After this mission, we'll be able to fill textbooks with new information."

New Horizons gets close enough to Pluto this week to observe the dwarf planet. This summer, though, the spacecraft will fly close to Pluto and use its seven onboard instruments to measure its magnetic field and collect samples of dust from its atmosphere.

Tombaugh's remains aren't alone on New Horizons. Other items making the trip to Pluto include a CD-ROM with over 400,000 names as part of a "Send Your Name to Pluto" promotion, Florida and Maryland state quarters (New Horizons was built in Maryland and launched from Florida), a small piece of SpaceShip One, two U.S. flags and a 1991 Pluto stamp.

[Photo Credit: Southwest Research Institute (Dan Durda)/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (Ken Moscati)]

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