Wednesday, March 11, 2009

'She lives! Let's go find planets!'

'She lives! Let's go find planets!': Telescope Launch Successful
By Alexis Madrigal
March 06, 2009

A new telescope that will be able to detect earth-like planets around other stars successfully launched Friday night from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 10:49 p.m. Eastern time.

The Kepler Space Telescope is the first human tool that will be able to find planets capable of supporting life as we know it.

Its trip into orbit went exactly as planned, with the @NASA twitter feed declaring it, "A perfect launch!"

NASA Headquarters sent out a release at 1:00 am in which Kepler's project manager drew attention not just to the launch, but the telescope's ultimate mission.

"It was a stunning launch," said Kepler Project Manager James Fanson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Our team is thrilled to be a part of something so meaningful to the human race — Kepler will help us understand if our Earth is unique or if others like it are out there."

Excitement about the launch had been running high both because of the special nature of Kepler's science program — what one NASA scientist called trying to find "E.T.'s home" — and the failure of NASA's last satellite launch.

"It's not just another science mission. This one has historical significance built into it," Ed Weiler of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters said at a press conference Thursday.

After sad drama of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, which failed to reach orbit aboard a Taurus rocket, the Kepler launch was all sunshine and sparkles.

The final separation of the spacecraft and its rocket occurred right on schedule, with the voice of the NASA launch saying, with barely contained excitement, "At 64 minutes 30 seconds into the flight, we've just received positive confirmation of spacecraft separation."

After that, there was only one step left: making contact with her handlers at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado. The signal came through right on time and NASA folks finally began to celebrate.

"She lives! Let's go find planets!" tweeted S. Pete Worden, head of NASA Ames, which co-managed the project.

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