New Horizons is expected to be closest to Pluto by July 14, but on July 4, NASA unexpectedly lost contact of the space probe at 1:54 p.m. EDT. Communications, fortunately, were revived at 3:15 p.m. EDT and despite the 81-minute break, NASA said that the space probe remains "healthy," according to its status report.
However, the problem doesn't end there.
As scientists are still figuring out what caused the glitch, New Horizons has actually switched to "safe mode" because of the incident. What this effectively means is that the spacecraft has stopped collecting scientific data from Pluto for now.
New Horizons has been travelling on autopilot to the dwarf planet since January 2006 to gather high resolution photos and take scientific measurements of its atmosphere, including its moon, Charon. Last week, New Horizons was able to send data that detected the presence of frozen methane on the planet's surface, according to Forbes.
But with this latest development, new data, particularly for its upcoming July 14 mission, may not be collected at all.
Experts think that it will take "several days" before New Horizons functions normally, according to Engadget. Further to that, it takes at least four and a half hours for the spacecraft to send data to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., as New Horizons is now 3 billion miles away from Earth. All these time delays are being factored into the recovery plan by NASA.
The spacecraft is supposedly scheduled to do a flyby on Pluto on July 14 at 7:49 a.m. EDT, where scientists are hoping to see the dwarf planet's atmospheric composition. From there, New Horizon is not expected to enter and orbit around Pluto, but it will further investigate the Kuiper Belt.
NASA will have to confirm if the July 14 mission still stands.