Huntsville High Graduate Helped Build Instrument On New Horizons Probe To Pluto

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HUNTSVILLE (KFSM)- After nine years in space, the New Horizons spacecraft reached the edge of the solar system this week, sending back the clearest images of Pluto ever seen.

One of the key instruments that is on board the craft was partially designed by a man who grew up in Northwest Arkansas.

David James is a graduate of Huntsville High School and the University of Central Arkansas. James then went on to the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he helped assemble the Student Dust Counter. The instrument is now collecting valuable data more than four billion miles away from earth.

The Student Dust Counter is one of seven instruments on board the New Horizons spacecraft.

“It actually counts the little tiny dust [particles]. What it is, is you could consider it mini asteroids, or really tiny planets, because they are rocks that orbit the sun,” James said. “As you go out further, there are more and more of these, just because of how they interact with the bigger ones, which we just happen to call planets.”

The probe made it to Pluto Tuesday (July 14,) nearly a decade after it left earth.

“Finally, the day [arrived], and it is just amazing,” James said. “You really get kind of nostalgic, and you remember all these memories from when you were building it. It was really just this great feeling.”

James said he has focused his attention on a different project at CU after the dust counter was sent into space.

“You do wait, but you have to go onto other things” James said. “You can`t just sit around for nine and a half years, and do nothing.”

James said his mentors in Arkansas were a big part of his journey.

“I actually have a lot of Arkansas to thank for this. My high school, my college and all the teachers I have been through,” James said.

Today, James is a professional research assistant at CU.

“Looking back, [the Student Dust Counter] absolutely shaped who I am. It has directly affected my career now,” James said.

James added that the nine-plus years of waiting were well worth it.

“Yes, you do sit around waiting for this, but when the day comes, it’s an amazing experience which I will absolutely never forget,” James said. “It is amazing to know that your name is on something that is going to the outer edges of the solar system.”

James added that Pluto was still a planet when the probe was launched.

The New Horizons spacecraft was the fastest-launched craft ever, leaving Earth at 36,000 miles per hour. The particles the Student Dust Counter is analyzing are also flying fast. James said the particles travel 10 miles per second.