NASA's Kepler Telescope is in trouble. The planet-hunting probe has been out of commission since May, when a reaction wheel that allowed researchers here on Earth to control its orientation broke down. Now, NASA is launching an effort to save the mission.
Controllers have remained in communication with the craft, which is about 45 million miles from Earth. It takes about four minutes for a radio signal to traverse that gap.
In the first round of tests, telemetry from the craft indicated the wheel that shut down in May spun counterclockwise, but didn't respond to commands to turn clockwise, NASA reported. Controllers will go ahead with tests scheduled for next week on the other wheel while they study the results of Thursday's effort.
Kepler project manager Roger Hunter called Thursday's findings "an interesting development."
"While this is a positive start, it is very early in the multi-stepped process to characterize the performance of the reaction wheels and to determine if one could return to operation," Hunter said in a written statement. "The team will remain focused on the upcoming tests and report the cumulative test results at the end of the month."
Fingers crossed. NASA's Kepler mission is among the most prolific in the Agency's history. It would be a shame to see it permanently sidelined so soon, after such a phenomenal run.