After four years of searching for new worlds — discovering 164 planets and finding hints of at least 3,500 more — the Kepler space telescope was brought down on May 15 by a couple of faulty ball bearings. Without those bearings, the spacecraft lost its aim, and Kepler’s prime planet-hunting days came to an abrupt end. For Bill Borucki, who had championed the mission since the 1980s, it was a deflating and humbling moment.
Why, then, is this man smiling?
“Oh, I have a feeling of satisfaction,” says Borucki, an astronomer at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in his distinctive soft voice. “The worry before we launched was that there were very few planets. That’s not true. We’re finding lots of planets of all sizes, including planets that may be full of life. We’re about to accomplish our objectives. So I’m just delighted.”