Mars Science Lab Launch Faces Two-Year Delay

Mars Science Lab Launch Faces Two-Year Delay

The launch of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory has encountered a setback, with a delay until 2011 attributed to technical challenges and increased costs. This announcement was made by NASA officials during a press conference in Washington on Friday.

A photo illustration of a laser-equipped vehicle that is set to be part of the Mars Science Laboratory.

Credit: CNN

About Mars Science Lab: Mission’s Objective

The Mars Science Laboratory is a substantial, nuclear-powered rover designed for extended travel, equipped with a suite of scientific instruments. According to NASA’s website, its mission is part of a “long-term effort of robotic exploration” aimed at “studying the early environmental history of Mars” and determining if the planet was ever capable of supporting life.

Reasons Behind the Delay

NASA cited several “testing and hardware challenges” that need addressing to ensure the success of the mission. Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, noted that insufficient progress had been made recently in overcoming these technical hurdles.

NASA Assistant Administrator Ed Weiler emphasized that rescheduling the launch to 2011 would enable a meticulous resolution of technical issues through thorough testing, avoiding rushed decision-making.

Financial Impact

The total cost of the Mars Science Lab is now estimated to be around $2.1 billion, up from the original $1.6 billion budget. Dwayne Brown, a NASA spokesman, revealed this updated cost, highlighting that NASA’s entire budget for the current fiscal year is approximately $15 billion.

Unique Features of Mars Science Lab

The rover is set to utilize new technologies, including a surface propulsion system, enabling it to explore greater distances in challenging Martian terrain. Weiler emphasized the critical nature of the mission, stating, “Failure is not an option on this mission,” underscoring the importance of delivering value for U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Impact on Other Programs

Weiler asserted that, based on initial assessments, other NASA programs would not face cancellation due to the additional costs resulting from the delay in the Science Lab launch. However, he acknowledged potential delays in other unspecified programs.

Critics’ Perspective

Critics have raised concerns about these delays and cost increases, attributing them to perceived issues of accountability and incompetence in managing time and taxpayer funds. Former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern pointed to a broader problem of cost increases being accepted to protect local jobs, contributing to what he referred to as a “culture that has lost control over spending.”

NASA’s Response

In response, NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown stated that NASA administrators are continually working to enhance cost estimation capabilities. Brown stressed that NASA routinely reviews projects to understand risks related to performance, cost, and schedule.

Recent Mars Projects

The Phoenix Mars lander mission concluded last month after a dust storm and the onset of the Martian winter depleted the solar vehicle’s batteries. Despite its short mission duration, the project aimed to explore the possibility of a habitable environment by landing in an area rich in frozen water.

NASA also revealed recent findings indicating the detection of small concentrations of salts that could serve as nutrients for life on Mars’ subsurface. These observations underline the ongoing importance of Mars exploration despite the setbacks in the Mars Science Lab mission.

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Published on: 2008-12-05 21:04:54


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