By: Julie Caponigro
Will we find life in space? Prospects seem low as of recent developments citing that our most valuable resource for finding life, the Kepler satellite, is experiencing issues. On Wednesday, NASA officials announced a serious problem with the Kepler satellite.
The Kepler was launched four years ago and has since then found more than 2,700 possible planets. All the planets found were orbiting stars other than our Sun and more than 100 have been confirmed. Many of the “exoplanets” discovered resemble the Earth in size or mass. Finding such remarkable masses in space is a huge step forward for space discovery programs. Recently, three of the Earth resembling planets were reported to be in the “habitable zone”. The habitable zone is close enough to the star they orbit that water remains in the liquid state, however not so close to the star that water boils. The planets with water in the liquid state can possibly harbor life!
Without the Kepler satellite, prospects to find new planets and masses are low. NASA has reported that the second of four of the Kepler spacecraft’s reaction wheels have failed. These wheels aim the vessel’s instruments and are imperative for it to function. It is still unknown whether or not full repairs are possible. For the spacecraft to point accurately, at least three reaction wheels are needed. These wheels aim in the three dimensions. They direct the satellite in either they up-down, north-south, or east-west direction. The first wheel failed last summer, and now since the second has gone out the Kepler has too few reaction wheels to keep pointing with accuracy.
NASA is trying to figure out a plan to fix our most valuable planet-finding radar. NASA plans to, at the very least, devise a way to work around the broken reaction wheels. NASA said in a statement “It has done amazing things. You don’t have to be an optimist to think there is still a chance to turn Kepler around.” However, the loss of a fully functional Kepler would be devastating to our space research program.
The Kepler is responsible for finding more potential planets than any other facility or method. Kepler data has yielded an estimate of at least 17 billion total of Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy. In my opinion, the NASA program will undoubtedly be impacted in a huge way. I feel that NASA officials need to be working on this issue tirelessly as it has a huge impact on our nations most valuable asset to become the leader in outer space research.