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CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami/AP) – Culminating a journey from planet Earth that spanned 3 billion miles and 9 ½ years, the moment of closest approach to Pluto for the New Horizons spacecraft came Tuesday at 7:49 AM.

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That same evening, the spacecraft sent word of its triumph to scientists waiting breathlessly back home, making it official.

Confirmation of mission success came 13 hours after the actual flyby.

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Early indications had been encouraging, and a cheering, flag-waving celebration swept over the mission operations center in Maryland at the time of closest approach Tuesday morning. But until New Horizons phoned home Tuesday night, there was no guarantee the spacecraft had buzzed the little, icy world.

The unprecedented encounter was the last stop on NASA’s grand tour over the past half-century of the planets in our solar system. New Horizons arrived at Pluto after an epic journey that began 9½ years ago, back when Pluto was still considered a full-fledged planet.

According to NASA, the spacecraft swept to within 7,700 miles of Pluto at 31,000 mph. The pictures from closest approach should be available starting Wednesday.

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