Kepler’s astounding success in proving there are more planets than stars in our galaxy, and the existence of many worlds that could be favorable to life has forever changed our perspective. Many members of the Kepler team and scientists offered thoughts on what this mission, and its finding of “more planets than stars,” has meant to them.
On Thursday evening, NASA’s Kepler space telescope received its final set of commands to disconnect communications with Earth. The “goodnight” commands finalize the spacecraft’s transition into retirement, which began on October 30 with NASA’s announcement that Kepler had run out of fuel and could no longer conduct science.
Coincidentally, Kepler’s “goodnight” coincides with the anniversary of the death of its namesake, German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion and died 388 years ago on November 15, 1630.
The final commands were sent over NASA’s Deep Space Network from Kepler’s operations center at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, or LASP, at the University of Colorado in Boulder. LASP runs the spacecraft’s operations on behalf of NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado.
Kepler’s team disabled the safety modes that could inadvertently turn systems back on, and severed communications by shutting down the transmitters. Because the spacecraft is slowly spinning, the Kepler team had to carefully time the commands so that instructions would reach the spacecraft during periods of viable communication. The team will monitor the spacecraft to ensure that the commands were successful. The spacecraft is now drifting in a safe orbit around the Sun 94 million miles away from Earth.
The data Kepler collected over the course of more than nine years in operation will be mined for exciting discoveries for many years to come.
NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from LASP.