NASA is suspending the next planned mission to Mars because of a faulty seismometer, which measures ground movements.
The mission, known as InSight, was supposed to begin in March and is now delayed for more than two years because of the way the orbits of the Earth and Mars are aligned — making a launch possible only every 26 months.
NPR's Joe Palca reports that the mission would have been first to explore the interior of Mars:
"To do that, the spacecraft was supposed to carry an extremely sensitive seismometer that could detect even the tiniest tremor inside the planet. But the instrument had been experiencing a series of vacuum leaks that would have compromised its accuracy. The French space agency that made the instrument decided that it would not have time to fix the leak before the scheduled launch date, so NASA had to suspend the mission."
"Learning about the interior structure of Mars has been a high priority objective for planetary scientists since the Viking era," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. "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."
Grunsfeld, however, emphasized the delay was just a temporary setback for NASA's exploration of Mars, where scientists announced in September they had discovered water.
"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," he said in the statement.
Last December, the launch of the spacecraft Orion was also delayed by faulty equipment, although only for one day.