Almost There

Tracy Drain
by Tracy Drain
Systems Engineer

The Kepler mission, which will look for Earth-like planets, is nearing its scheduled March 6 launch date.

At our flight readiness review on February 4th, our deputy principal investigator, David Koch, took a few minutes to talk about the history of Johannes Kepler, the project’s namesake. Koch recapped Kepler’s tremendous contributions to the realm of astronomy 400 years ago, and reminded us all why our mission is so appropriately named for that great scientist. He also touched on the more recent history of the mission, reminding us how our science principal investigator, William Borucki, wrote his first paper on the possibility of detecting planets using the transit method back in the ’80s, and then in 1992 first proposed the mission that would later become Kepler. While I already knew most of those details, there was something special about hearing them again during that milestone review just one month away from launch. It gave a deeper, richer context to what we were all doing and made me even more excited about seeing this mission succeed. (If you are reading this David, thanks so much for doing that!)

Now here we are, less than a week away from launch. The entire team has been working so hard these last several weeks. The assembly, test and launch operations team has run the final major checkouts on the spacecraft at the Kennedy Space (I don’t think it’s Spaceflight) Center in Florida, and the spacecraft is now all buttoned up on top of the Delta II launch vehicle.

 Workers attach the two-part payload fairing over the Kepler spacecraft in preparation for launch.
Image above: Workers attach the two-part payload fairing over the Kepler spacecraft in preparation for launch. The cover, designed to jettison shortly after launch, protects the spacecraft from the friction and turbulence as it speeds through the atmosphere during launch. Image credit: NASA

The operations team has completed the final, full-up operational readiness test to rehearse the launch and early operations period. We’ve also completed the last pre-launch ground segment integration test and the commissioning operational readiness tests, which together validated the tools and procedures that we will use during that roughly two months of checkout after launch. We’re now in the home stretch: signing off the last few test reports, closing out the final action items — dotting and crossing those proverbial i’s and t’s.

And so we are nearly ready to go. In just a few days I will head off to Boulder, Colo., where I will join the part of the team located at the mission operations center to support launch and commissioning operations. We’re gearing up for an exciting campaign; I can hardly wait for this new phase to begin!

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    9 Responses to “Almost There”

  1. Zabet Stewart Says:
    March 3rd, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    I never cease to be amazed at what NASA manages to get into space. It’s awesome, in the original sense of the word. I’m so proud of you!

  2. Shannon Says:
    March 4th, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Outstanding work! Thanks to all of you at JPL for putting this together. This is some of the most forward-looking work that can be done. I’m looking forward to seeing the results!

  3. Mike Says:
    March 6th, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Godspeed to Kepler and all whose spirits go with her…

  4. Paul Findsen Says:
    March 9th, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Congrats on a successful launch! I can’t wait for the big science to roll in!

  5. Bill Bartmann Says:
    September 5th, 2009 at 9:13 am

    I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work

  6. BloggerDude Says:
    October 8th, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    I don’t know If I said it already but …Great site…keep up the good work. :) I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read….

  7. Speno Says:
    February 8th, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Thank you good article ;)

  8. johnny Says:
    May 12th, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    is is possible to build a space telescope that can scan the dark energy and dark matter in the future, or do we already have one?

    JPL astronomer Jason Rhodes responds:

    Since dark matter neither emits nor absorbs electromagnetic radiation, we cannot observe it directly. Likewise, dark energy is probably a property of space or a force (like gravity) and not a substance that we can see. So, observing dark matter and dark energy must be done indirectly. We’ve identified three main methods for observing the effects of dark matter and dark energy: measuring the distances to exploding stars (supernova), measuring the clustering of galaxies and measuring the distortion in observed galaxy shapes caused by gravitational lensing. Current instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope allow us to observe these effects over small patches of the sky. However, to really understand the properties of the more than 95 percent of the Universe made up of dark matter and dark energy, we’ll need a dedicated facility able to examine significant fractions of the sky. Several ambitious projects using proposed ground and space based telescopes plan to do that in the next decade.

  9. johnny Says:
    May 12th, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    cant wait for the next data download from kepler, should be very interesting discoveries awaiting. thank you nasa and jpl for the great work being done.

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