The Delay

NASA has decided to suspend its March 2016 launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodisy and Heat Transport (InSight) after a lot of deliberation. Previously scheduled to depart for Mars, a leak in a prime instrument necessitated the delay.

“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, in the NASA press release. “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.”

The instrument in question is a seismometer. It can record ground movements using three main sensors, which will be vacuum sealed. The leak problem has happened before, and was thought to have been addressed. However this second malfunction was enough cause to postpone the launch for the time being.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Point of the Mission

InSight’s main objective is to learn more about what constitutes the interior of the Red Planet. By doing so, it is hoped that we may learn more about how the other planets in our solar system were formed. Being a rocky planet, Mars is a prime candidate for studying how planets that were initially similar to Earth developed upon formation. To that end, InSight is tasked with gaining valuable 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."

“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 Center.

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