NASA suspends InSight mission to Mars

It was to involve the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with NASA hoping it would become the "first project devoted to investigating the deep interior of the Red Planet".

NASA is calling off its next mission to Mars because there isn't enough time to fix a leaky seal on a key science instrument.

The two instruments to be placed in a work area in front of the lander are a seismometer to measure the microscopic ground motions from distant marsquakes providing information about the interior structure of Mars, and a heat-flow probe. 

According to the USA space agency, a leak earlier this year that had prevented the seismometer from retaining vacuum conditions was repaired, but after the final sealing of the instrument, another leak was detected.

"Space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we're not ready to launch in the 2016 window", Grunsfeld said. The fault discovered was a leak in the vacuum-sealed metal sphere that held three seismometers.

NASA planetary sciences division director Jim Green was quoted by Reuter, saying that the cost of the InSight mission, including launch and data analysis, has shot up from an initial $425m to $675m. For InSight, that 2016 launch window existed from March 4 to March 30.

Because Mars, farther from the sun, takes longer to orbit, Earth and Mars will not be in alignment again for 26 months, in May 2018. "Every opportunity isn't equal because our orbits are slightly eccentric, and so the 2018 opportunity is actually energetically more favorable".

That is, if the InSight mission is able to proceed.

"I feel very bad for our partners in France who have worked so hard to get us to the point that we thought we would be able to make it to the 2016 launch", Grunsfeld said. To date, InSight has already cost $525 million.

The InSight stationary lander is based on NASA's Phoenix lander, which set down at the Martian North Pole in 2008, and is designed for a 720-day primary mission near the Martian equator. There it waits for the next two years.

"Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets' early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks", he explained. Robotic spacecraft is leading the way for NASA's Mars Exploration Program, with the upcoming Mars 2020 rover being designed and built, the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers exploring the Martian surface, the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft now orbiting the planet, along with the MAVEN orbiter, which recently helped scientists understand what happened to the Martian atmosphere. Bruce Banerdt, InSight's principal investigator, said that during tests of the instrument, still in France, air was pumped out to a pressure of about 1 ten-millionth of a millibar, or less than 1 billionth of the Earth's atmospheric pressure of about 1,000 millibars.

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