By Alex DeMetrick

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Pluto is now in the bag. The New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach today to the dwarf planet.

Alex DeMetrick reports that accomplishment made for some down to Earth celebrating here in Maryland.

The countdown was for the New Horizons spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto and its moons.

It took nine and a half years and three billion miles to get here.

As the moment of closest approach neared..

“This is payday,” mission scientist Hal Weaver said.

“I can hardly believe we are here. It’s surreal that this is encounter day. We’ve been looking forward to it for so long,” mission scientist Cathy Olkin said.

New Horizons has already sent back the first detailed images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon.

This morning came the last picture of Pluto before the actual flyby, which will reveal close up views of the surface.

“And now we can actually see this planet that is so wonderfully complex,” mission journalist Andy Chaikin said.

And it gets seen first here in Howard County.

“2,500 Americans worked to build New Horizons, which was produced here at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Maryland. It’s an amazing little spacecraft,” mission scientist Alan Stern said.

While passing between Pluto and its moons, New Horizons is out of touch with Earth, collecting data with pre-programmed maneuvers.

Later, a phone home signal will take four and a half hours to reach Maryland.

First images will be released Wednesday.

There is a passenger, of sorts, on board New Horizons.

“When he discovered it, it was a point of light, just a speck on a plate,” Annette Tombaugh said.

Annette Tombaugh is the daughter of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto 85 years ago.

She and her brother donated some of her father’s ashes to ride aboard New Horizons.

“And he will continue to go into history and the universe. That’s quite an honor,” Alden Tombaugh said.

But for now, Pluto is enough.

If everything works as planned, images could be spectacular.

If it was flying over New York, New Horizons’ cameras would be able to see the ponds in Central Park.

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