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St. Louis man helped save Pluto space probe mission

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CHESTERFIELD, MO (KPLR) - When the New Horizons spacecraft has its much anticipated close encounter with Pluto on Tuesday, two St. Louisans will be playing key roles in the mission.

Brian Bauer, 32, is in charge of the software that becomes the probe`s autopilot during computer glitches.

He is a 2001 graduate of Parkway Central High School and a 2005 graduate of Washington University with degrees in aerospace engineering.

On July 4th weekend, when the New Horizons probe began having mission-threatening computer problems, it was the software Bauer manages that saved the day.

'I didn`t design the software but I made a lot of changes including the change that saved the spacecraft this time around,' Bauer said.

On Tuesday, when the probe comes closest to Pluto and begins its scientific work, it will lose contact with earth for several hours, leaving Bauer`s software as the safety net if there is a problem during the blackout.

'I will be incredibly nervous waiting to see how my system has been behaving and hopefully we will see back nothing has happened and things will just keep going,' Bauer said.

Along with Bauer, Washington University of St. Louis Earth and Planetary Sciences Professor William McKinnon serves as the mission`s Deputy Lead Scientist.