Mars Science Lab launch delayed two years

WASHINGTON (CNN) The launch of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory – hampered by technical difficulties and cost overruns – was delayed until fall 2011, NASA officials said at a meeting. newspaper on Thursday in Washington.

An illustration of a laser-equipped vehicle set to be part of the Mars Science Laboratory.

An illustration of a laser-equipped vehicle set to be part of the Mars Science Laboratory.

The mission was scheduled to launch in the fall of 2009.

The Mars Science Laboratory is a large, nuclear-powered rover designed to travel long distances with an onboard science kit.

According to NASA’s website, this is part of a “long-term effort of robotic exploration” established to “study the early environmental history of Mars” and assess whether Mars was – or still also – can sustain life or not. .

According to NASA, the launch delay was due to a number of “hardware and testing challenges that still must be addressed to ensure a successful mission.”

“The advances in recent weeks have not been rapid enough in addressing the engineering challenges and pulling the hardware together,” said Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “.

Changing to a 2011 launch “will allow for careful resolution of any remaining technical issues, proper and thorough testing, and the avoidance of a frantic launch,” argued Ed Weiler, NASA Deputy Administrator.

According to NASA spokeswoman Dwayne Browne, the overall cost of the Mars Science Laboratory is now estimated to be about $2.1 billion. The original project cost $1.6 billion.

According to Browne, NASA’s entire budget for the current financial year is about $15 billion.

According to NASA, the Mars rover will use new technology and is designed to explore longer distances over rougher terrain than previous missions to the planet. This will be done in part using a new surface propulsion system.

“Failure is not an option in this mission,” Weiler said. “Science is so important and investing with American taxpayer dollars forces us to be absolutely certain that we’ve done everything we can to ensure the success of this flagship planetary mission.”

Weiler asserts that, based on the agency’s preliminary assessments, the additional costs associated with the delay in the Science Lab launch will not result in the cancellation of other NASA programs over the next two years. However, he admitted that would lead to unspecified delays for other shows.

Critics say the delays and cost overruns associated with the Mars Science Laboratory are a sign of an agency struggling with a lack of accountability and inefficiency in terms of time management. tax time and money.

“The Mars Science Lab is just the latest sign of a NASA culture that has lost control of its spending,” Alan Stern, a former NASA administrator, wrote in a Nov. York Times. “A cancer is overwhelming our space agency: the habit of accepting massive cost increases in projects.”

Stern alleges that the agency’s excess costs are being driven by “managers who fabricate the scale of increasing costs incurred by mandates” and that “members of Congress accept dramatic increases to protect local jobs.”

Browne responded in a written statement saying that NASA administrators are “continuously working to improve (the agency’s) cost estimation capabilities. … We are constantly reviewing your project to understand the real risks in terms of performance, cost, and schedule.”

“Real life at NASA, where we were tasked with creating the first science discovery missions, is that estimating the cost of … science can be as difficult as actually doing science.” , Browne said .

NASA’s most recent Mars project – the Phoenix Mars lander mission – came to an end last month after the solar vehicle’s battery ran dry as a result of a dust storm and the the beginning of the Martian winter. It was operational two months after the initial three-month mission.

NASA officials landed the vehicle in an arctic plain after satellite observations showed a large amount of frozen water in that area, most likely in the form of permafrost. They think such a site would be a promising place to look for organic chemicals that signal a habitable environment.

Scientists have been able to verify the presence of water ice in the Martian surface, NASA said on Thursday, finding small concentrations of salt that could be nutrients for life and observing snowfall. from the clouds.

All about Explore Mars • NASA Mars Science Lab launch delayed two years

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