WASHINGTON — In a sign of the times, NASA’s famous Kepler telescope has broken down and is putting NASA’s efforts to discover other signs of life in the universe at risk.
NASA has invested $600 million in the research mission of the telescope, which is orbiting the sun as a satellite to see the universe more clearly and escape space debris and other factors that inhibit observation. It lost a second of four wheels that control its orientation in space and it cannot precisely point at stars for observation as a result.
Although NASA sciences chief John Grunsfeld said “I wouldn’t call Kepler down-and-out just yet,” it may look that way.
It is 40 million miles away and it is too far to send astronauts on a repair mission as they did the Hubble Space Telescope. If they cannot get the wheel to realign, the telescope can be used for other specific purposes, although this event dampens the mood.
Per Associated Press, Kepler was launched in 2009 to look for earth-like planets, has confirmed 132 planets and spotted an additional 2,700 potential planets. The mission was supposed to be over by now, but NASA agreed to extend the mission through 2016 at a cost of $20 million per year.