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article imageNASA forced to scrub plan to land unmanned ship on Mars

By Nathan Salant     Dec 24, 2015 in Science
Lompoc - NASA has called off a planned mission to Mars early next year after scientists were unable to repair a leak in a key piece of science equipment.
A highly sensitive French-built seismometer designed to measure microscopic ground tremors failed during final testing on Monday, agency officials said.
"NASA managers have decided to suspend the planned March 2016 launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission," NASA said in a written statement.
"The decision follows unsuccessful attempts to repair a leak in a section of the prime instrument in the science payload," the agency said.
The decision was particularly disappointing for NASA because the one-month window for optimal Mars launches comes in March, and the delay means there probably will be no launch attempts at all next year.
But officials said their determination to explore Mars has not waned and they still have a list of missions planned with the eventual goal of landing astronauts on the planet.
“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," said John Grunsfeld of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.
"A decision on a path forward will be made in the coming months, but one thing is clear: NASA remains fully committed to the scientific discovery and exploration of Mars,” Grunsfeld said.
A prior leak in the seismometer, officially entitled Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), was repaired earlier this year
NASA officials said there might not be enough time to solve the problem and thoroughly test any revisions so they were calling off the launch in the interest of caution.
“It’s the first time ever that such a sensitive instrument has been built -- we were very close to succeeding, but an anomaly has occurred, which requires further investigation," said Marc Pircher of France's Toulouse Space Centre.
"Our teams will find a solution to fix it, but it won’t be solved in time for a launch in 2016,” Pircher said.
The InSight spacecraft, which was built by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, now must be returned to Denver until next year.
“The JPL and CNES teams and their partners have made a heroic effort to prepare the InSight instrument, but have run out of time given the celestial mechanics of a launch to Mars,” Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Charles Elachi said.
“It is more important to do it right than take an unacceptable risk,” he said.
NASA has several spacecraft operating on Mars, including the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, and the Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance and MAVEN orbiters, the agency said.
The European Space Agency also has a ship orbiting Mars, the agency said.
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