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Mission to the outer limits

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has taken up temporary residence at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., where engineers are doing final testing before the craft begins its 9-year voyage to the outer solar system.

If all goes according to plan, the craft will be launched in January 2006, swing by Jupiter for a velocity boost from the planet's gravity in early 2007, and in 2015 become the first mission to fly past Pluto and its moon Charon. These two small, icy bodies, and the collection of frozen miniworlds that lie beyond them in a disk-shaped reservoir known as the Kuiper belt, have never before been explored close-up.

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