After 9 Years In Orbit, Kepler Telescope Leaves A Legacy Of Discovery NASA's Charlie Sobeck, former manager of the Kepler Space Telescope mission, discusses the monumental findings of the spacecraft and NASA's decision to retire it in orbit.
NPR logo

After 9 Years In Orbit, Kepler Telescope Leaves A Legacy Of Discovery

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/664103262/664103263" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
After 9 Years In Orbit, Kepler Telescope Leaves A Legacy Of Discovery

After 9 Years In Orbit, Kepler Telescope Leaves A Legacy Of Discovery

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/664103262/664103263" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This is Lulu's log, stardate November 4, 2018, where we consider matters of space, the stars and the universe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When looking up at the stars, it's hard not to wonder what else or even who else could be out there. It wasn't until about a decade ago that we were able to locate and identify the distant planets of our dreams. Since 2009, NASA has discovered more than 2,600 planets thanks to the Kepler space telescope. Last week, after nearly a decade of hunting for new planets, the Kepler finally ran out of fuel. Joining us today to talk about the legacy of the Kepler Mission is NASA's Charlie Sobeck, a former manager of the mission. Welcome to the program.

CHARLIE SOBECK: Thank you very much. Pleased to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think will be remembered as Kepler's greatest discoveries?

SOBECK: I think the biggest thing that's going to be remembered from Kepler is not any specific planet. But the legacy's really going to be that planets are out there everywhere. I mean, the "Star Trek" franchise has been going on for 50 years now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

SOBECK: I had no problems believing starships could go from one place to another, and planets were going to be everywhere. Kepler really affected me when we found them all. There's a big difference between knowing and believing. And I think that's what Kepler's legacy is going to be. We finally know that planets are everywhere out there. And now we're going to go and find out more about them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are you sad?

SOBECK: Not really - I mean, we saw the end coming. We knew it was going to happen. We - this is not an accident like getting struck by a meteorite or having an engine fail or something. We ran out of gas. We knew we were going to be running out of gas. So it's kind of sad that it's all over, but by no means am I unhappy. This was a tremendous mission.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Now that Kepler's done, NASA plans to continue the hunt for new planets with TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which is a bit of a mouthful. And that was launched earlier this year. How will it continue the work of Kepler?

SOBECK: So the way I look at it is Kepler was launched to answer the question, are there other planets out there? And it came back with a resounding yes. But we were looking, you know, a thousand, 3,000 light years away. TESS is going to now say, now that we know that planets are everywhere, we're going to go ahead and make the investment. And we're going to look at all our near neighbors - basically, every star within a hundred light years of Earth - and look for planets.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Since this is a kind of obit for Kepler, how do you think it should be remembered?

SOBECK: I think it should be remembered as the opening salvo in this ongoing investigation. You know, it's a series of stepping stones to answer the question, are we alone? And without this mission, we wouldn't have done TESS. We wouldn't have been looking for planetary atmospheres. So Kepler really opened the door to a new investigation path.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: NASA's Charlie Sobeck, former manager of the Kepler space telescope mission. Thank you so much for joining me.

SOBECK: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "AWAKE")

Copyright © 2018 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.