Physics Professor Discusses Work With New Horizons Mission to Pluto

Nathaniel Cunningham

Nathaniel Cunningham, assistant professor of physics, has worked with the New Horizons mission to Pluto. He'll share his experience at the Faculty Scholarship Presentation on January 26.

Nathaniel Cunningham

Cunningham watches images of the New Horizons spacecraft fly-by near Pluto last summer.

Nathaniel Cunningham
Nathaniel Cunningham

Nebraska Wesleyan University physics professor Nathaniel Cunningham was elated as he watched the New Horizons spacecraft make its close fly-by of Pluto last summer. The successful fly-by also meant he had more work ahead.

Since 2006, Cunningham has been a member of the Southwest Research Institute responsible for designing, calibrating and decoding data received from ALICE, an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer that captured thousands of images of Pluto.

Cunningham shared his work with the New Horizons mission at a lecture on January 26. His lecture was titled, “Problem-Solving Literally On The Fly: The Calibration Effort for NASA’s New Horizons Mission to Pluto.”

Watch lecture.

“Unlike science experiments and instruments on Earth, the hardware on space-based observatories like NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto can never be repaired or upgraded to fix glitches or provide improved capabilities,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham’s lecture was selected as this year’s Faculty Scholarship Presentation, which is presented by the university’s Forum Committee to highlight the scholarship of NWU faculty. Faculty are nominated and selected by the Forum Committee and provost.