Troublesome Leak Grounds NASA’s Next Mission To Mars
Lest we forget, space travel remains an incredibly tricky endeavor.
One day after SpaceX made history with an epic launch and vertical landing of its Falcon 9 rocket, bringing mankind one step closer to private space travel, NASA announced that it has suspended its upcoming mission to Mars — because of a leak.
The decision to ground the new Mars lander, dubbed InSight, follows unsuccessful attempts to repair the leak, which involves a key scientific instrument.
“We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we’re not ready to launch in the 2016 window,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
The InSight spacecraft — the name is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — was set to launch in March and arrive on Mars in late September. NASA said the “terrestrial planet explorer” will study Mars’ interior and help scientists understand the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system, including Earth, more than 4 billion years ago.
The mission-delaying leak is in the seismometer, an instrument made by France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and designed to measure ground movements as tiny as the diameter of an atom.
“It’s the first time ever that such a sensitive instrument has been built,” said Marc Pircher, director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre. “We were very close to succeeding, but an anomaly has occurred, which requires further investigation. Our teams will find a solution to fix it, but it won’t be solved in time for a launch in 2016.”