The first spacecraft dedicated to finding potentially habitable planets
beyond our solar system is poised to blast off from Cape
Canaveral tonight in a three-year mission to probe 150,000 stars in the
most sweeping hunt for Earth-like objects ever undertaken by NASA.
The Kepler spacecraft will be positioned so it can capture the slight dimming
of stars as planets pass in front. The variation in brightness will
produce readings that can be used to calculate the planet's size and orbit and
the temperature of the star. Planets in habitable zones are most likely to
have conditions favorable for life as it is found here on Earth.
Unfortunately, for those of you unable to get the paper, the online version of the article is sans the graphics and much of the explanatory text. But that's a discussion for another space. Right now what is important is that someone in our government still has the vision to keep looking.
The Kepler mission is looking for another Earth. But we need another Earth like a hole in the head. (see Wallee) Replicating what we have created here can't be what this mission is after. We need a fresh start and a new idea. Anyone who believes that we will be able to come up with one or the other by the time this three year mission ends should stand up and get in line for the next flight. Or as project administer, Ed Weiler points out,
It's also possible that Kepler will discover how rare Earths are, "That to me is scary, because I don't want to live in a universe where we're the best there is."