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NASA suspends InSight mission to Mars

December 23, 2015

US space agency NASA has suspended their next space mission to Mars. The announcement comes after private space flight firm SpaceX successfully launched and landed its first reusable rocket.

This image provided by NASA shows an artist rendition of the proposed InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander. After driving all around Mars with four rovers, NASA wants to look deep into the guts of the red planet. The space agency decided Monday, Aug. 20, 2012, to launch a relatively low-cost robotic lander in 2016 to check out what makes the Martian core so different from Earth's.
Image: NASA/dapd

NASA's next mission to Mars has been grounded, the US space agency announced on Tuesday.

The space agency has said they are suspending the March 2016 launch of its InSight mission to Mars because of problems with a scientific instrument.

The faulty instrument is a seismometer and is tasked with measuring ground movements on the Red Planet. It has been experiencing multiple leaks, and most recently failed during a vacuum test on Monday in extreme cold temperatures.

"We're close enough to launch but unfortunately we don't have enough time to try to identify the leak, fix it and recover and still make it to the launch pad in March," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's science mission chief.

NASA managers said a redesign of the part could take up to five years. Months of analysis is expected before they decide on how to proceed.

Insight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, is the spacecraft due to be launched. The spacecraft is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets in the solar system and the interior structure of Mars. The robotic-lander could help scientists determine why the Red Planet's core is so different than our planet.

Future in doubt

The delay is a blow for the future of the research mission, as spacecraft must be sent to Mars when it is close to Earth. These launch windows occur for just a few weeks every 26 months.

The next opportunity for launch will be March 2018 when Earth and Mars are favorably aligned.

"Space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we're not ready to launch in the 2016 window," Grunsfeld said.

The news comes after private space flight firm SpaceX successfully landed its first reusable rocket.

smm/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)