Get pumped for NASA's Pluto flyby with free app and gorgeous video

After a brief course correction, New Horizons is on track to get up close with Pluto on July 14. Here are two awesome ways to catch Pluto fever.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

We're now down to less than a month before NASA's New Horizon spacecraft makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14...and there are two stellar ways for you to get in on the excitement.

The first is to check out the video "trailer" above that's been released by the National Space Society, "an independent, educational, grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a space-faring civilization," according to the group's website.

The video -- called, appropriately enough, "New Horizons" -- has been created by Stockholm computer animator Erik Wernquist, who was responsible for last year's beautiful short film called "Wanderers," which imagined what life would be like if all people could travel freely around our solar system.

This time, Wernquist turns his exceptional animation skills to highlight various NASA missions that have taken us to other planets in our solar system, before culminating at his interpretation of what a view from the surface of Pluto will look like.

The second way to get your Pluto fever rising is with a free app called Pluto Safari (Android, iOS), which is made by the same people who created the high-quality SkySafari star-gazing app (Android, iOS).

Pluto Safari -- perfect for (space) nuts and beer. Simulation Curriculum

Pluto Safari basically delivers all you need to know about the New Horizons mission and Pluto itself right to the palm of your hand. While it's not as visually rich as the "New Horizons" video, the app is simply chock full of information.

There's a timeline that lets you track all of the major milestones in the mission since New Horizons' launch in 2006, a guide to Pluto itself (once known as Planet X), a pinch and zoom version of the solar system that shows where the spacecraft is now, and lots of other fun tidbits. There's also a handy countdown clock on the app's homescreen that shows the time and distance of New Horizons to the dwarf planet.

If you don't want to add yet another app to your tablet or smartphone, you can also enjoy Pluto Safari online.

According to a report released Monday, New Horizons mission control at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (APL) in Laurel, Md., issued a command that caused the spacecraft to undergo a small course correction via a 45-second thruster burst.

APL said the burst adjusted New Horizons' velocity by 52 centimeters per second. The news that the maneuver was successful took 4.5 hours to reach APL over NASA's Deep Space Network, as the spacecraft is now about 2.95 billion miles (about 4 billion kilometers) from Earth -- which makes it about 22 million miles (about 35 million kilometers) from Pluto.

"The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally," says APL.