NASA, JHUAPL, SWRI
The New Horizons spacecraft sent back three of the most detailed images of Pluto to date shortly before the probe entered a safe mode on July 4. The pictures, taken when New Horizons was about 13 million kilometers from the dwarf planet, show three different swaths of the icy surface as Pluto slowly rotated on its axis.
At about 2 p.m. Eastern on July 4, mission control lost contact with New Horizons. The computer was compressing recently acquired data at the same time that mission control was uploading the sequence of commands needed for the July 14 Pluto flyby, mission scientists reported at a July 6 news conference. The overload of activity prompted the spacecraft to temporarily put itself into safe mode, in which the spacecraft it points its antenna toward Earth and awaits further instructions.
“New Horizons is operating flawlessly and is on course,” said Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator. The final command sequence has been uploaded and is ready to execute starting July 7. “All early indications are that Pluto isn't going to let us down.”