It’s October 2018 and NASA scientists are monitoring the Kepler space telescope as they have been for more than nine years. The ship has been scouring our galaxy, the Milky Way, for planets that might potentially support life. But disappointment for the NASA team is just around the corner. Abruptly, Kepler’s transmission of data to Earth comes to a halt.
NASA launched the Kepler telescope in March 2009 from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Its mission, which came with a $600-million price tag, was to find planets that were likely candidates to have a life-supporting environment. Engineers had believed that the spaceship likely had a three-and-a-half-year lifespan, but happily that proved to be a wildly inaccurate estimate.
Kepler’s purpose as it travelled through space was to identify what are called exoplanets. These are planets orbiting suns outside of our solar system. And for its part, Kepler was searching the skies for planets in the Milky Way that had at least the possibility of supporting life.