The Little Spacecraft That Could by Joyce Lapin and Simona Ceccarelli

Happy Wednesday! I'm excited to celebrate The Little Spacecraft That Could with Joyce Lapin today. It is a riveting picture book filled with interesting facts. I wrote the words in purple, and Joyce wrote the words in black. Thank you, Joyce! 

The Little Spacecraft That Could’s book trailer owes its magic to Simona Ceccarelli, the illustrator!

When Simona sent me the first animatic, I was delighted with her visuals. She’d also included “placeholder” text—and not only was that text a perfect springboard, a couple of lines were too perfect to change.

In the trailer, suspense builds so wonderfully that I’m thrilled every time I watch it. And while I haven’t asked Simona about her early thought processes, I’m sure she intuitively paralleled the suspense of New Horizons’ journey to Pluto. And that little spitfire of a spacecraft deserves all the build-up! Venturing ten years and three billion miles through space, to send back the first-ever close-up photos of Pluto! And what she discovered about that world is remarkable.

Simona Ceccarelli’s illustrations rock my world.

I can’t imagine anyone but Simona illustrating this book. She personified the little spacecraft and its journey perfectly!

I especially love the spread on pages 14-15, showing New Horizons getting a speed boost from Jupiter’s monster gravity. It looks like she’s on some kind of cosmic Disney ride.

I also love the spread on pages 5-6, when the spacecraft is leaving Earth’s atmosphere. She looks so happy to drop her rocket boosters and to be light and free and on her way! (As I type this, I’m realizing I want to feel the way she looks.)

Pluto is “alive!” This doesn’t mean we’ve found life on Pluto. (We haven’t—yet.) It means that Pluto is “geologically active,” with its surface and interior constantly changing.

Perhaps most exciting, Pluto has a water ocean under its surface. And where there’s liquid water, there’s the possibility of life.

Just imagine: This planet so far from the life-giving Sun may be one of the places we find alien life!

New Horizons is actually a robot! She’s not artificial intelligence, but—as we state in the book—she knew so much about her mission that she was almost her own astronaut! Maybe this is why it was so natural to anthropomorphize her.

The spacecraft was named by Dr. Alan Stern, leader of the New Horizons mission. He chose the name New Horizons for its bright and hopeful sound—and because the spacecraft was exploring new horizons at Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

I feel very honored to share the New Horizons story with the world’s children!

Jupiter is a force of nature. The boss. Jupiter is so ginormous that more than 1,000 Earths could fit inside it. This massive planet’s gravity has shaped the entire Solar System.

Without the speed boost New Horizons got from “hitching a ride” on Jupiter’s gravity, the spacecraft would’ve taken another three years to reach Pluto. The New Horizons Earth team did a remarkable job of engineering this gravity assist. It’s one of the many incredible success stories of the New Horizons mission

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me what I left out of the book!

Ten days before New Horizons’ rendezvous with Pluto, her Earth team suddenly lost contact with the spacecraft.

I can’t imagine the angst of the New Horizons team during this time. After years of planning and preparation, then 10 years and three billion miles of space flight!

It turned out that the spacecraft’s computer was handling so many tasks that it “switched authority” to its backup computer. The New Horizons team worked like mad around the clock, and contact was re-established in time for the Pluto flyby.

And hopefully, everyone’s fingernails grew back!

Thank you, Joyce! 

Look for The Little Spacecraft That Could on May 18, 2021. 

Sterling's Description: 

Ride along with the New Horizons spacecraft as she rockets three billion miles to Pluto! Watch her take the first close-up photos of Pluto, and then journey another billion miles to mini-world Arrokoth. You’ll whiz through space at more than 10 miles per second; learn how giant planet Jupiter helped the little spacecraft reach Pluto; and discover the astonishing surface feature that made the world fall in love with Pluto.


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