Even though it was scheduled to arrive on the Red Planet in September next year, the 2016 Mars mission got suspended by NASA due to a fault in its components. The launch has been delayed to 2018 when the next launch window will be present, with Earth and Mars being specifically aligned in order to facilitate the mission.
The mission in question is called InSight and it was supposed to next in line, right before our goal of sending astronauts on Mars, in regards to its significance. The mission’s main objective was to study the planet’s interior composition, as well as extensively analyzing its atmosphere. The geological compounds would have been gathered through the use of the thermal probe installed on the InSight probe.
The lander InSight is made out of an initial structure that carries the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package heat probe designed by the German Space Agency. The two added cameras would take photos of the environment and analyze the atmosphere during this process. The lander also has a robotic armed attached to it in order to provide enhanced maneuverability and flexibility.
The entire structure of the InSight was built by Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, or CNES, in France. Before the space lander was shipped to the US, it developed a leak in the vacuum seal around its precise seismometer, which can analyze ground movements down to the diameter of an atom. The device in question is the first of its kind in the history of scientific inventions. Even after repairing the seal, its insulators were still presenting several faults, unfortunately.
The aforementioned leak makes the seismometer cease its function completely, due to the fact that it requires a vacuum space surrounding its three main sensors in order to conduct its precise analysis. Besides making vacuum impossible, this leak would also threaten the entire structure of the lander, because of the extremely harsh environments present on Mars.
Although the mission was postponed until 2018, the French press states that the lander would be completely repaired and ready for launch by May of next year. If NASA will agree that InSight no longer has any faults in its structure, as well as taking into account the costs of the launch present at that time, the mission may undergo before 2018.
Even if this delay cannot be circumvented at all, other Mars missions will not be affected in any way, shape or form. The planet’s core may remain a mystery until the 2018 launch window, leaving the Curiosity rover our best bet in finding more about Mars, at least from its outer structure point of view.
Despite the fact that the 2016 Mars mission got suspended by NASA, the public needs to understand that any threat, even the slightest miscalculation, may completely endanger any space faring mission. Besides having to endure the vast nothingness of space, it also has to land safely on the surface in order to complete its goal, urging engineers to create the perfect machine, from a safety point of view. At least, Curiosity is still having the time of its life out there on Mars.