The Kepler telescope has been a critical tool for scientists hunting the heavens for Earth-like planets. Last fall, the telescope finished its prime mission but NASA scientists extended its search efforts.
However, Kepler ran into trouble in May when it lost the use of one of the four wheels that control its orientation in space.
The malfunction means NASA is no longer able to manipulate the telescope's positioning. Ground engineers also are having a hard time communicating with it since the communications link comes and goes as the spacecraft spins uncontrollably.
If the Kepler telescope isn't repaired, astronomers will be forced to rely even more on the James Webb Telescope, NASA's next great observatory. With the James Web Telescope, which isn't slated to launch until 2018, scientists will test the validity of their findings about cloud cover influencing the number of potentially habitable planets.
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