Two NASA leaders write in the Baltimore Sun about our recent expedition to Pluto and Charon. They describe it as “an unmatched American accomplishment,” and that’s right.

When JFK challenged us to get to the Moon by the end of the 1960s, our commitment to space exploration could have come to an end. When the Soviets as our closest rivals collapsed, we could have throttled back. Yet NASA has been a consistent civic virtue of American culture since its founding, and as other nations join us in exploring the Galaxy I can’t help but hope that “rising tides lift all ships.” We all stand to gain.

There’s too much acrimony in America. Much of it is illusory, and Americans are closer in spirit than our politicians are incentivized to acknowledge. Adventures like NASA can enhance a spirit of unity in celebrating some of the best instances of American achievement:

NASA’s portfolio of scientific exploration includes a broad and robust array of missions and destinations. The James Webb Space Telescope — scheduled to launch in October 2018 — will orbit the Sun a million miles from Earth and will reveal new worlds, galaxies and solar systems, enabling a better understanding of our own place in the universe. The 2020s will bring a new rover to the surface of Mars, and a mission to explore Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter, is in development. NASA-led studies of Earth continue to shed new light on the dynamic and complex interactions that influence the climate, weather and natural hazards people encounter around the world. Ultimately, this journey of discovery will bring American astronauts to a place that has sparked imaginations for generations: Mars.

Successful completion of this mission to Pluto marks a scientific achievement that only a generation ago would have seemed little more than fantasy. With tomorrow’s Pluto flyby, the United States will have visited every planet and dwarf planet in our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match. Thanks to American ingenuity and leadership, people around the world have a better understanding of planet Earth, the solar system and the universe. With that knowledge in hand, the next generation of scientists and engineers can look ahead to new horizons of discovery in the decades to come.

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