Although NASA has sent astronauts to the Hubble Space Telescope to make repairs and upgrades, Hubble is just a few hundred miles above Earth. Kepler, by contrast, is 51 million miles from Earth.
That is “way too far for humans to fly there and back,” NASA spokesman J.D. Harrington said.
Sending a robotic mission is also off the table because “these spacecraft also have to be designed from scratch for serviceability like Hubble was,” Harrington added. “Because most of our spacecraft are too far out, we don’t design that into them. It adds complexity and cost.”
Harrington made his comments after NASA announced Aug. 15 that after months of effort, it is ending its unsuccessful attempts to fix Kepler from the ground. Two of Kepler’s four reaction wheels, which precisely point the spacecraft, failed in 2012.
NASA is now exploring whether the telescope, which was originally designed to search for Earth-like planets, can perform a new science research mission. A decision to proceed with a new mission could occur in 2014.
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