NASA Recovers Crippled Planet-Hunting Kepler Spacecraft, $600 Million Space Telescope Rescued

NASA engineers have been able to successfully rescue the planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft that went adrift 75 million miles away from Earth, the space agency announced Monday.

The $600 million space telescope went into emergency mode last week while in deep space, and NASA engineers have spent a tense few days attempting to return the spacecraft to normal operations.

The Kepler spacecraft remains in low fuel mode for the time being while NASA engineers try to figure out what sent the ship into a tailspin, according to a press release from the space agency.

“Mission operations engineers have successfully recovered the Kepler spacecraft from Emergency Mode (EM). On Sunday morning, the spacecraft reached a stable state with the communication antenna pointed toward Earth, enabling telemetry and historical event data to be downloaded to the ground.”

NASA engineers first noticed the planet-hunting space telescope was in trouble when they tried to point Kepler toward the center of the Milky Way. The spacecraft has already discovered nearly 5,000 distant planets, and NASA scientists were planning a new kind of survey studying far away stars and their outer planets as well as rogue planets wandering through space.

When the Kepler team reached out to the spacecraft, they found it had inexplicably shifted into Emergency Mode. The last regularly scheduled contact April 4 had gone as planned, and it wasn’t until April 8 NASA discovered the problem, mission manager Charlie Sobeck told SFGate.

“Even at the speed of light, it takes 13 minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.”

This was the first time the spacecraft has entered emergency mode during its seven years floating through deep space.

The space venturing telescope has now recovered, although engineers still aren’t sure what the problem was. NASA has leaned away from blaming the reaction wheels, which failed a few years ago and sent the spacecraft into a tailspin.

More than 1,000 of the planets Kepler has discovered since it was launched in 2009 have been confirmed. The spacecraft completed its primary mission in 2012 and has since been repurposed for an extended mission of galactic exploration, according to Space.

“Exoplanets, especially small Earth-size worlds, belonged within the realm of science fiction just 21 years ago. Today, and thousands of discoveries later, astronomers are on the cusp of finding something people have dreamed about for thousands of years, another Earth.”

In 2012, Kepler made a massive find when it discovered 11 new star systems and 26 new exoplanets.

During July 2015, the spacecraft discovered a planet very similar to Earth dubbed Kepler-452 located 1,400 light years away in the habitable or “Goldilocks” zone of its parent star.

In October 2015, Kepler discovered what some claimed was an alien superstructure orbiting a distant star 1,500 light years away from Earth. NASA scientists have yet to discover the true explanation for what appears to be a massive Dyson Sphere but say the existence of alien life is unlikely. Research continues into the strange objects.

Earlier this year, NASA’s space telescope made the first-ever recording of an exploding star. The 20-minute explosion was viewed in a spectrum visible to human eyes.

Now, with Kepler back in working order, NASA scientists will once again continue their mission of galactic exploration.

[Photo by NASA/AP, File]

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