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NASA employees celebrate after their space probe becomes the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto

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(CNN) -


A historic moment for NASA.

Employees celebrate the moment their space probe became the first spacecraft ever to fly by Pluto.

A remarkable achievement in space exploration after New Horizons traveled more than nine years and nearly five billion kilometers to reach the icy planet.

This incredible image, taken by the space probe, is the latest and most detailed view of Pluto we have ever seen.

It was taken 766,000 kilometers from the dwarf planet, about 16 hours before its closest approach

This victory now completes NASA's initial investigation into the solar system, having explored every planet

Yet it is only the beginning of what scientists can expect from New Horizons.

Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, NASA said, "Stay tuned because our space craft is not in communication with the earth. We've programmed it to be spending its time taking important data sets that it can only take today. And over the next period of 12 or 13 hours, the space craft will continue to take that data. Then Wednesday morning we should see the beginning of a 16 month data waterfall."

The space probe will take not only photos, but measurements to help scientists learn more about Pluto's atmospheric structure, composition, and temperature.

As NASA revels in the success of New Horizons, this is the start of the excitement as it will continue to gather data for weeks after it goes by Pluto, traveling into the Kuiper Belt at the end of the solar system.

Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager said, "I have to pinch myself. Look what we accomplished. It's truly amazing that humankind can go out and explore these worlds and to see Pluto be revealed just before our eyes. It's just fantastic."

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