When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made history last week—flying by Pluto and sending back incredible photos that wowed us all—500pxer Navid Baraty was actually with the team at Johns Hopkins APL, capturing their reactions as they reaped the fruits of over a decade of labor.

When Navid began uploading his photos from the event to 500px, we immediately got in touch to ask for more! He got to hang out with Bill Nye, was with the team the moment New Horizons flew by Pluto, and captured it all on camera to boot.

We wanted to know how this opportunity came up, what it was like to be in the room, what he remembered of the team’s reactions, and how meaningful the experience was for him as a photographer. Scroll down to find out what he had to say.

Celebration as New Horizons flew by Pluto! by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

500px: First off, how did you get involved with this type of photography?

NAVID BARATY: I’m actually The Planetary Society’s photographer! How I came to photograph for them is a rather interesting story…

On the night Mars Curiosity landed a few years ago, it was broadcast on the Toshiba screen at Times Square. I went to photograph the moment that night:

Mars Curiosity Rover Landing Broadcast by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

My crowd reaction photos became quite popular online and at NASA. Around that same time the Society was trying to get funding restored to Planetary Science at NASA from Congress. I reached out to them and offered that they could use the photos in any way if it could help their cause. They took me up on it and used some of my Curiosity images.

A few months later I ended up traveling with them to Washington, D.C. to document an event where they met with Congress and hosted a lunch to show the importance of planetary exploration. A wonderful relationship was formed!

Now that I’m in LA a lot of the time, I’ve been shooting more often for them since they’re based in Pasadena. In May, I flew with them to Florida to photograph the launch of their LightSail spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral.

Alan Stern and Bill Nye by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

Bill Nye by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

How did you end up covering the New Horizons flyby event?

NAVID: I was planning to be a part of this event at Johns Hopkins APL no matter what. I knew that I just had to be there at the heart of this mission to capture the reactions during this incredible moment for humanity. When I told the Society of my plans to be there, they offered to send me to cover it for them!

Okay, now for the good stuff: what was it like being in that room? Can you describe people’s reactions?

NAVID: The reactions were just beyond words. At the moment of New Horizons’ closest approach, the crowd just went insane as the New Horizons team led the countdown in the final seconds.

The whole room erupted into cheering and applause. I saw tears on faces. People hugged one another. The family of Clyde Tombaugh was also present (he discovered Pluto in 1930) and it was truly incredible to watch their excitement throughout the flyby. It’s really extraordinary that some of Clyde’s ashes are on board the spacecraft.

The New Horizons Team Celebrating the Moment the Spacecraft Passed Pluto

Celebration after Pluto flyby! by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

Celebration after the Pluto flyby by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

The crowd reacting at the same time

Celebration as New Horizons flew by Pluto! by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

Finally, what did this experience mean to you? You’re clearly passionate about NASA and space exploration, this must have been amazing to witness first-hand.

NAVID: It all reminded me very much of that magical, rainy night in NYC when thousands gathered to watch Curiosity land. It’s one of those times that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

We built a spacecraft that flew over 3 billion miles for over 9 years to photograph a mysterious world that we could only dream of seeing before. It just goes to show how much the awe and wonder of space ignites our innate curiosity as humans, and what greatness we can accomplish when ideas get off the ground.

We need a new postage stamp! by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

Bill Nye and the Tombaugh family by Navid Baraty on 500px.com

A huge thank you to Navid for sharing his photos and story with us—we’re both incredibly grateful AND incredibly jealous! To see more from Navid—NASA-related and otherwise—be sure to follow him on 500px, visit his website, or check him out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

And if you have any questions for him, drop them in the comments down below!