stamp issued in 1991 that served as motivation for planetary scientists to send a probe to Pluto
In August 1992, JPL scientist Robert Staehle called Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, requesting permission to visit his planet. "I told him he was welcome to it," Tombaugh later remembered, "though he's got to go one long, cold trip." The call eventually led to a series of proposed Pluto missions, leading up to New Horizons.
Stamatios "Tom" Krimigis, head of the Applied Physics Laboratory's space division, one of many entrants in the New Frontiers Program competition, formed the New Horizons team with Alan Stern in December 2000. Appointed as the project's principal investigator, Stern was described by Krimigis as "the personification of the Pluto mission". New Horizons was based largely on Stern's work since Pluto 350 and involved most of the team from Pluto Kuiper Express. The New Horizons proposal was one of five that were officially submitted to NASA. It was later selected as one of two finalists to be subject to a three-month concept study, in June 2001. The other finalist, POSSE (Pluto and Outer Solar System Explorer), was a separate, but similar Pluto mission concept by the University of Colorado Boulder, led by principal investigator Larry W. Esposito, and supported by the JPL, Lockheed Martin and the University of California. However, the APL, in addition to being supported by Pluto Kuiper Express developers at the Goddard Space Flight Center and Stanford University, were at an advantage; they had recently developed NEAR Shoemaker for NASA, which had successfully entered orbit around 433 Eros earlier in the year, and would later land on the asteroid to scientific and engineering fanfare.
In November 2001, New Horizons was officially selected for funding as part of the New Frontiers program. However, the new NASA Administrator appointed by the Bush Administration, Sean O'Keefe, was not supportive of New Horizons, and effectively cancelled it by not including it in NASA's budget for 2003. NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Ed Weiler prompted Stern to lobby for the funding of New Horizons in hopes of the mission appearing in the Planetary Science Decadal Survey; a prioritized "wish list", compiled by the United States National Research Council, that reflects the opinions of the scientific community. After an intense campaign to gain support for New Horizons, the Planetary Science Decadal Survey of 2003–2013 was published in the summer of 2002. New Horizons topped the list of projects considered the highest priority among the scientific community in the medium-size category; ahead of missions to the Moon, and even Jupiter. Weiler stated that it was a result that "[his] administration was not going to fight". Funding for the mission was finally secured following the publication of the report, and Stern's team were finally able to start building the spacecraft and its instruments, with a planned launch in January 2006 and arrival at Pluto in 2015. Alice Bowman became Mission Operations Manager.