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Are there other Earths? Kepler mission to find out answers

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The Kepler Solar Array Assembly being installed to the spacecraft's bus. Photo credit: NASA and Ball Aerospace

NEW YORK (BNS): Are there other planets in space similar to the one we are living in? To find out an answer to this age-old question, US space agency NASA's Kepler spacecraft will be launched into space on March 5 next year.

The spacecraft will monitor more than 100,000 stars for signatures of planets of various sizes and orbital distances, mission managers at NASA said.

It has the ability to locate rocky planets like Earth, including those that lie in a star's 'habitable zone'-- a region where liquid water, and perhaps life, could exist. If these Earth-size worlds do exist around stars like the Sun, then Kepler would be the first to find them, and the first to measure their frequency.

William Borucki, Kepler science principal investigator at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said Kepler's mission is to find out whether Earth-size planets in the habitable zone of other stars are frequent or rare; whether life in our Milky Way galaxy is frequent or rare.

Ball Aerospace Programme Manager John Troeltzsch said a team of engineers overcame some difficult hurdles to achieve this milestone. "The culmination of this effort will put a spectacular mission in orbit designed to increase our understanding of the cosmos," he said.

Presently, engineers are busy packing the Kepler spacecraft into a container and ship it off to its launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

James Fanson, Project Manager for the mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said Kepler was ready to begin its journey to its launch site, and ultimately to space, where it will answer a question that has troubled mankind at least as long ago as the ancient Greeks.

The spacecraft has passed all its environmental tests at the Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, ensuring that it is prepared for the harsh trip to space. It also passed what is called the “pre-ship review”, meaning that it is ready to be shipped via convoy to Florida in early January. Its first stop will be Astrotech in Titusville, Florida, where the spacecraft will be processed before being carried to its launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Kepler will be launched atop a Delta II rocket, NASA said.

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