NASA on Friday prepared to launch a telescope that will search the corner of our Milky Way galaxy for Earth-like planet, making it NASA's first ever mission of its kind.
The Kepler spacecraft is scheduled to blast from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida just before 11 p.m. ET tonight for a three-year mission to probe 150,000 stars in the largest hunt for Earthlike objects.
This is a historical mission. It's not just a science mission, NASA Associate Administrator Ed Weiler said during a pre-launch news conference, according to CNN.
It really attacks some very basic human questions that have been part of our genetic code since that first man or woman looked up in the sky and asked the question: Are we alone?
The Kepler spacecraft has just two three-minute windows of opportunity to blast off on Friday, from 10.49pm to 10.52pm EST, or later at 11.13 to 11.16pm EST.
The search for extra-solar planets, or exoplanets, has become astronomy’s most popular activity. Since 1995, telescopes on Earth and in space have detected 340 planets elsewhere in the galaxy. “We know already about an incredibly wild and chaotic range of planets,” said Prof Fisher.
Sometimes, people call this the golden age of astronomy. I think it's more like the platinum age of astronomy. It's beyond gold, said Alan Boss, an astronomer with the Carnegie Institution who is on the Kepler Science Council.
The main point of the planet search, which is costing NASA $600 million, is to know whether there is life beyond the solar system.