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Date: 24 December 2015 13:39
NASA is calling off its next mission to Mars because there isn't enough time to fix a leaky seal on a key science instrument.
The InSight spacecraft was set for launch in March.
The problem is in a seal around the lander's seismometer, which was designed to measure ground movement on the red planet.
NASA managers and French designers of the instrument said on Tuesday they must now decide whether the leak in the vacuum-sealed connector needs to be repaired, redesigned or the mission scrapped.
The next opportunity to launch the InSight lander is in May 2018 since the best chances of launching missions between Earth and Mars occur for just a few weeks every 26 months.
"We're close enough to launch but, unfortunately, we don't have enough time to try to identify the leak, fix it and recover and still make it to the launch pad in March," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
"We know the interior of earth and its structure very well, but of the other planets, Mars is our only hope to make those kinds of measurements," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division.
NASA managers said it could take months of analysis and discussion before they decide how to proceed. A redesign of the part could make the 2018 opportunity unlikely since it could take up to five years.
NASA officials said the delay of the InSight mission wouldn't affect the schedule of any other missions to Mars.