NASA spacecraft hurtles toward tiny, icy world beyond Pluto

LAUREL, MD - JULY 15: A model of the New Horizons spacecraft that passed with 7,800 miles of Pluto yesterday, is on display at a NASA news conference July 15, 2015 in Laurel, Maryland. Images from the flyby are being released as they become available. The 1,050-pound piano sized probe, which was launched January 19, 2006 aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, zipped by the planet yesterday. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

LAUREL, Md. — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly past a mysterious object nicknamed Ultima Thule at 12:33 a.m. Tuesday. It will become the most distant world ever explored by humankind.

The flyby comes 3½ years after New Horizons swung past Pluto and yielded the first close-ups of the dwarf planet.

This time, the drama will unfold 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, so far away it will be 10 hours before flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, know whether the spacecraft survived the close encounter.

Lead scientist Alan Stern said Monday the team has worked years for this moment and now, “it’s happening!!”

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