NASA Suspends InSight Mission 2016 Launch To Mars

Posted: Dec 23 2015, 4:00am CST | by , Updated: Dec 23 2015, 4:47am CST, in News | Latest Science News

NASA calls off its 2016 InSight Mission to Mars
This artist's concept from August 2015 depicts NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. The mission will launch during the period March 4 to March 30, 2016, and land on Mars Sept. 28, 2016. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
  • NASA Suspends March 2016 Launch of InSight Mission to Mars

NASA has called off its InSight Mission Launch in March 2016. Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission was headed to Mars.

After a lot of deliberation, NASA has decided to suspend its launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodisy and Heat Transport (InSight).

This mission was supposed to shoot for the sky in March 2016. This followed a leak in the prime instrument. It is all about knowing more about the interior environment of the Red Planet.

This is a worthwhile goal that planetary researchers have pursued since time immemorial. Space exploration is a relentless drive and so nothing could be left to chance. That is why this mission was forestalled in the nick of time.

“Learning about the interior structure of Mars has been a high priority objective for planetary scientists since the Viking era,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“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. 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.”

A decision will be reached within the next few months though. But for now a moratorium is due on the space launch mission. NASA’s commitment to the idea has not faded at all. Inspite of the hitches and glitches along the way, NASA sticks with its guns.

The instrument that is the main concern is a seismometer. It can record ground movements as small as a single atom. It has a vacuum seal around the exterior of its three main sensors.

InSight’s major drive will be towards finding out more about the interiority of Mars. Via this methodology it can discover how other planets (including our earth) formed in the first place.

Especially, the mystery concerning the genesis of rocky planets will be solved. The interior of Mars contains valuable evidence about the rocky planet’s development.

This is missing from the earth’s record due to the churning of the earth’s core. Mars lacks this churning and so can be easily studied by a probe. The actual aim is to gain data about the crust, mantle and core of Mars.

“InSight's investigation of the Red Planet's interior is designed to increase understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California.

“Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets' early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks. Gaining information about the core, mantle and crust of Mars is a high priority for planetary science, and InSight was built to accomplish this."

The leak in the seismometer had been fixed earlier this year. But it malfunctioned again this time around and so things have been put on hold for awhile.

This is the very first time that such an extremely sensitive instrument has been built. So it comes as no surprise that it malfunctioned. And while a solution to the problem will be found, it won’t be in time for the launch which was due in 2016.

The positions of earth and Mars are such that only during a gap of a few months during a 26 month cycle are the conditions ideal for a launch. Therefore a delay is to be expected.

“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. Our teams will find a solution to fix it, but it won’t be solved in time for a launch in 2016,” said Marc Pircher, Director of CNES’s Toulouse Space Centre.

“In 2008, we made a difficult, but correct decision to postpone the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory mission for two years to better ensure mission success,” said Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, in Washington.

“The successes of that mission's rover, Curiosity, have vastly outweighed any disappointment about that delay."

“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,” said JPL Director Charles Elachi. “It is more important to do it right than take an unacceptable risk.”

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