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Pluto: A Kansas Man's Lasting Legacy

Here's the historical marker you'll find in Burdett, Kansas, summarizing Clyde Tombaugh's amazing discovery: Pluto!  (Photo by Kimberly Fertig)

In less than two weeks, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will finally fly past Pluto. On July 14, the spacecraft will come closer to the mysterious planet than any other NASA spacecraft. There are at least two Kansas connections to this story. First, you'll recall that President Dwight Eisenhower, from Abilene, started the nation's space program. Commentator Rex Buchanan tells us about the second Kansas connection: Clyde Tombaugh.

Commentator Rex Buchanan is the interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas. He's a regular contributor to Kansas Public Radio.


Pluto is smaller than our own moon and it's located several billion miles from Earth. It's hard to imagine now, 85 years later, just how big of a deal it was when Clyde Tombaugh first spotted the ice-cold rock in 1930. In the wake of his discovery, Mickey Mouse named his dog Pluto. Scientists named a new radioactive element Plutonium. You'll likely be hearing more about Pluto and Clyde Tombaugh in the coming days because on July 14, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto and send back the best pictures we've ever seen. On board that spacecraft, in addition to cameras, scientific instruments and equipment, researchers tucked away a small packet containing about an ounce of Clyde Tombaugh's cremated remains.

(Production assistance for this commentary provided by KPR News Intern Kristin Selby)

Pluto: A Kansas Man's Lasting Legacy

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