Many of the rocket and space flight enthusiasts I know are also car buffs. If you fit into that category, here’s an opportunity you won’t want to miss: a chance to own the car that New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern drove all the way to Pluto.
Well, technically, he drove his shiny red Nissan 350Z the entire time the New Horizons’ spacecraft was making a beeline for the icy dwarf planet. But Stern has now donated this car to the Lowell Observatory, the facility where Pluto was discovered. The car is being auctioned off on eBay, with proceeds going to support “Lowell’s mission of scientific research and education.” You can make your bid now, as bids are being accepted from December 15-24, and the winner will not only have the privilege of owning the car, but also enjoy a dinner with Stern.
Stern bought the car in 2006, the year New Horizons launched (it has a bumper sticker that says “My other vehicle is on its way to Pluto”) and he continued driving it until earlier this year, well past the spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto in July 2015.
It is a two-door model with red exterior and carbon interior, and has just over 77,000 miles on it, which, as Stern points out, is almost 10 times fewer miles than New Horizons clocked on its first day of flight. A November 9, 2016 appraisal states the vehicle is in excellent shape and has a life expectancy of 300,000 miles.
“It was Percival Lowell’s perseverance and dedication that resulted in the discovery of Pluto and, ultimately, resulted in the flight of New Horizons to explore this distant, small planet,” Stern said in a press release from the Lowell Observatory. “New Horizons was, and is, the best aspect of my career so far, so I wanted to donate this car to Lowell Observatory as a fundraising vehicle to recognize the fact that New Horizons could not have happened without the historic and pioneering work that took place at Lowell Observatory early in the last century.”
Stern was the impetus behind New Horizons, billed as the fastest spacecraft ever launched, so he calls the Nissan 350Z his “second fastest vehicle.” He still oversees the New Horizons mission, as the spacecraft continues on its journey through the Kuiper Belt. It will fly past another object, named 2014 MU69, which Stern said is an ancient KBO that formed where it orbits now.
“It’s the type of object scientists have been hoping to study for decades, and this will be the most distant world we’ve ever been able to see up close,” Stern told me during an interview for my upcoming book, “Incredible Stories From Space.” Chapter 1 tells the stories of the New Horizons mission, including many stories from Stern.
With a penchant for both creating and driving state-of-the-art vehicles, Stern revealed earlier this year that his new car is a Tesla.
Lowell director Jeff Hall said, “It’s been a real pleasure working with Alan over the past few years leading up to and past the Pluto flyby. He’s been tremendously supportive of Lowell, and his donation of his car for us to auction is a sterling example of this. We’re thrilled by this gesture, and we look forward to meeting the lucky winner.”
The Lowell Observatory was founded in 1894 by Percival Lowell and has been home to many important discoveries including the detection of the large recessional velocities (redshift) of galaxies by Vesto Slipher in 1912-1914 (a result that led to the realization the universe is expanding), and the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Today, Lowell’s 14 astronomers use ground-based telescopes around the world, telescopes in space, and NASA planetary spacecraft to conduct research in astronomy and planetary science. Lowell is a private, non-profit research institution and is located near Flagstaff, Arizona.