By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Nine and a half years is a long time to travel, but Tuesday morning, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach its destination.

Alex DeMetrick reports if all goes well, mankind will get its first closeup look at Pluto.

The New Horizons spacecraft was built and is being controlled by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Howard County.

It began its journey a year before Apple’s iPhone was introduced. Now, nine and a half years later:

“Fasten your seat belts. New Horizon has entered the Pluto system,” said Alan Stern, project scientist.

Last March, New Horizons sent back a picture of Pluto and its largest moon Charon.

This is how they looked last week as the spacecraft closed in at over 36,000 miles per hour, and this is Pluto as it looked Sunday.

Every hour–now revealing new details to what had been the solar system’s most mysterious world.

“We’re going to be looking at the geology and the composition. We’re going to be studying the atmosphere of Pluto,” said Cathy Olkin, project scientist.

During its closest approach to Pluto, New Horizons will be out of contact with Earth, operating very much on its own.

“And all the systems on board and the redundant systems on board, it’s all working,” said Glen Fountain, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

At 7:50 a.m. Tuesday, New Horizons will come within 7,000 miles of Pluto.

Traveling too fast to go into orbit, its cameras and other instruments will scan Pluto and its moons in rapid succession.

If it was passing over New York, its cameras would see the ponds in Central Park.

So, while it’s a quick visit:

“The data we are about to produce, in fact, the data we’re already producing, is a gift for the ages, for all mankind,” said Stern.

Because of the vast distance, scientists won’t receive a signal from the spacecraft until 9 p.m. Tuesday.

If successful, first closeup images of Pluto will be released Wednesday.

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