"NASA scientists hoped the third time would be the charm for their $700 million unmanned mission to Pluto, and, give or take a half dozen ten-minute delays, it was.
A piano-sized spacecraft blasted off Thursday on a 3-billion mile journey to study Pluto, the solar system's last unexplored planet, and examine a mysterious zone of icy planetary objects at the outer edges of the planetary system.
The New Horizons probe lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2 p.m., quickly reaching speeds as it pushed away from Earth of 36,000 mph, nearly 100 times faster than a jetliner.
'We have ignition and liftoff of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on a decade long voyage to visit the planet Pluto and then beyond,' said NASA commentator Bruce Buckingham.
It was the swiftest spacecraft ever launched and was expected to reach Earth's moon in nine hours and Jupiter in just over a year.
To reach Pluto, New Horizons had to launch by Feb. 14 or the flight would have been delayed to next year, reports CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood. But Jan. 28 was a better deadline, to take advantage of Jupiter's gravity for a planned 2007 flyby that will boost the probe's velocity by 9,000 mph and get it to Pluto by 2015. After Jan. 28, the arrival date would have begun slipping and by the end of the launch window, an additional five years would have been required to reach the target."