NASA’s plans to send a space vehicle to Mars for additional exploration of the red planet’s geology will likely be postponed until 2018 after it was discovered that an instrument aboard the vehicle, a leaky seismometer that needs to be sealed off from the outside world to survive on the harsh conditions of the red planet, would be unable to function as expected.
Without a proper vacuum-packed seal from the outside world, readings would be inaccurate and it would be a waste of an extremely expensive trip to visit Mars. Scientists have reportedly been aware of the leak since August and have continually tried to repair it with no success, and as a result, have given up trying to repair the faulty unit.
NASA is picking 2018 now because that’s the next time that Earth and Mars will be tangoing together close enough in our solar system for a launch to be practical and the seismic measurement device should be ready to go by then. Originally, the plan was to launch some time in the middle of next year.
It will also take time for the leaky seismometer, which was made by the French Space Agency (CNES), to be properly repaired and/or replaced for the mission, which means that meeting next year’s deadline would be essentially out of grasp.
"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," NASA's John Grunsfeld said in a statement.
The vehicle’s intention is to measure specific properties of the red planet that may one day help astronauts on their quest to live there, as NASA would one day like to have accomplished. Such things that the vehicle would monitor include seismic activity, temperature, and the way the planet orbits the Sun.
The New York Times reports that the spacecraft, which was intended to take this vehicle to Mars next year, will likely be carted back into storage so that it’s ready when the mission is a go.
Source: New York Times