There Are Second Acts After All—Even for Spacecraft
When the Kepler space telescopemalfunctioned last spring, it looked as though its incredibly successful planet-hunting mission might be over—and NASAmade that sad fact official a few months later. To find planets around distant stars, Kepler needed to keep its gaze fixed unerringly on a single patch of sky, month after month, with no wavering. The breakdown of the second of its four reaction wheels, however, which had kept the satellite precisely aimed since it reached orbit in 2009, made it impossible to continue its work.
But while the original Kepler mission is kaput, engineers have found a way to return their spacecraft to the planet-hunting game—and to study such esoteric cosmic beasts as giant black holes, exploding stars and dark energy in the bargain. “The science,” says Kepler project scientist Steve Howell, “is much better than we thought possible last summer. We’re really, really excited.”
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