The persistence that enabled us to see Pluto up close

Thanks to Michael Minovitch, who first proposed gravity assist maneuver…

Undeterred by the fact that some of the finest minds in history, including Isaac Newton hadn’t solved the three-body problem, Minovitch became focused on cracking it. He intended to use the IBM 7090 computer to home in on a solution using a method of iteration.

In his spare time, whilst studying for his PhD during the summer of 1961, he set about coding a series of equations to apply to the problem.

Feeding data on planetary orbits into his model, Minovitch had made progress by the autumn, but was anxious to check his data. So in the summer of the following year during an internship at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), he persuaded his boss to give him more accurate data on planetary positions to re-test his model.

To his delight, he ran the simulations again and found his solution still worked. What he had achieved made possible an extraordinary breakthrough in spacecraft propulsion.”


Leila Janah

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