New Horizon's weirdest cargo will warm your heart

Aboard the New Horizons craft as it edges closer to Pluto than we've ever been before is carried the ashes of its discoverer. Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh was the man that discovered our celestial neighbor Pluto. Now – thanks to some thoughtful NASA engineers – Tombaugh's mortal remains will be the closest that have ever traveled to our most distant Solar System cousin. This week NASA spoke with Tombaugh's children. "My Dad always said if he ever had the chance," said Tombaugh's son "he'd love to visit the planets in the solar system and around other stars." Now he will.

Clyde Tombaugh died on January 17th, 1997, nine years before the New Horizons mission launched. On January 19th of 2006, New Horizons launched aboard a Atlas V 551 rocket via Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Part of the payload for this mission were the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh.

Tombaugh was originally a farmer – but according to his children, he always wanted to explore space and the contents of other planets. To do this without a lot of money for schooling, he built his own telescopes.

He ground his own mirrors and put together hand-made assemblies himself, making use of broken farm equipment where possible.

He began making detailed drawings of planets like Mars and Jupiter – planets he was able to observe in his free time. These drawings led to a job with the Lowell Observatory, where he was also hired to clean off the roof and do basic hands-on work.

He went on to be the first to document hundreds of stars, asteroids, and two comets in addition to Pluto.

The images you see above and below are of Clyde Tombaugh, his family, and his telescopes. They were gratefully provided to NASA and the public by Tombaugh's children Annette and Alden.

Alden and Anette tell NASA that they'll each have their families around them as they "wait in nervous anticipation for New Horizons to radio home" when the closest flyby occurs.

The closest flyby of Pluto in the history of humankind will take place on July 14th, 2015. At closest approach, New Horizons will come about 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) from Pluto. This closest approach moment will hit at approximately 11:50 UTC.

That's Coordinated Universal Time, taking into account both Universal Time (UT1) and International Atomic Time (TAI). This time is at around the following:

• 7:50 AM Eastern Time

• 6:50 AM Central Time

• 5:50 AM Mountain Time

• 4:50 AM Pacific Time

Stay tuned – we'll be continuing to bring you the closest images of Pluto as they arrive. Hit the timeline below for more!

Below you'll see a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking with the Tombaugh family all the way back in January of 2012.

A slightly more recent video was filmed of Clyde Tombaugh's children by NASA, presented here as well.