One year ago this week, NASA's Kepler mission soared into the dark night sky, leaving a bright glow in its wake as it began to search for other worlds like Earth.
"It was a stunning launch," recalled former Kepler Project Manager James Fanson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Following Kepler's spectacular nocturnal launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at 7:49 p.m. Pacific Time (10:49 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, March 6, 2009, science team members whooped with joy.
"Now the fun begins," quipped an ecstatic William Borucki, Kepler's science principal investigator of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Since the search began, NASA's plucky exoplanet hunter has achieved significant success in its quest to answer the timeless question: "Are we alone in our galaxy?" Two months ago today, Kepler scientists jubilantly announced the discovery of five large exoplanets (planets located beyond our solar system) named Kepler 4b, 5b, 6b, 7b and 8b.
The Kepler Mission is designed to observe more than 150,000 stars continuously and simultaneously for signs of Earth-size planets until at least November 2012. Some of the planets are expected to orbit in a star's "habitable zone," a warm region where liquid water could pool on the surface.
Kepler is a NASA Discovery mission. Kepler is managed and operated by NASA Ames, and Ames is the home organization of the Science Principal Investigator. Kepler development was managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system. Ball Aerospace and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, support mission operations. The final data archive is located at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.
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