Next Mars Rover Won't Take Off Towards Mars Until 2011

By Eliza Strickland | December 5, 2008 8:37 am

Mars Science LabThe next robotic explorer in NASA’s ambitious Mars program will have to wait an extra two years before taking off towards the red planet, NASA officials announced yesterday. The Mars Science Laboratory was scheduled to lift off in the fall of 2009, but with unsolved issues with some of the spacecraft’s electrical motors … NASA officials no longer thought they could meet that schedule without rushing the testing program.“We’ve determined that trying for ‘09 would require us to assume too much risk, more than I think is appropriate for a flagship mission like Mars Science Laboratory,” Michael D. Griffin, NASA’s administrator, said [The New York Times].

Because Earth and Mars only draw near to each other every 26 months, the next possible launch window will come in 2011. The new delay is just the latest bit of bad news regarding the Science Lab, which has busted deadlines and budgets since the project was approved in 2006. The rover was initially expected to cost $1.6 billion, but the new delay will push costs up to about $2.3 billion, NASA officials said.

At a press conference yesterday, NASA administrators said they chose to delay the project because they didn’t want to skimp on testing the rover in an attempt to stay on schedule. “No one wants a $2 billion hole in the ground instead of a successful mission,” said planetary scientist John Mustard of Brown University in Providence, who heads NASA’s Mars program advisory panel. But “this is going to have ripple effects in the science community,” he added [USA Today]. The extra $400 million that will be needed because of the delay will be drawn from other Mars missions and possibly missions to other planets, and will likely cause some further postponements or cancellations.

The 2,000-pound Science Lab is bigger and heavier than anything that has ever been set down on Mars before, and its operation will be considerably more complex. It will use new technologies to adjust its flight through the Martian atmosphere, and to lower the rover to the surface via a tether from a hovering descent stage. The laboratory will use a new surface propulsion system to drive longer distances over rougher terrain than previous rovers [Orlando Sentinel]. It’s slated to roam near the equator for one Martian year (687 days), and will analyze rock samples in an attempt to learn whether the planet ever supported microbial life.

Related Content:
Bad Astronomy: Followup on MSL: Griffin’s spin
Bad Astronomy: NASA delays next Mars mission by two years
80beats: NASA Vows to Press Ahead With Over-Budget Mars Rover
80beats: Mars Science Lab Has Trouble Lifting Off; Might Make a “Nuclear Crater on Mars”

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

  • Larry

    Typical Gov’t we have, spend the money where needed right here in the USA!
    I could name 1000’s of good and needed projects, food banks, cancer research, ….etc..etc

  • Larry


  • Larian LeQuella

    May also be worth mentioning the “Name the Rover” program:

    Larry, I totally agree on your assessment of your intelligence in the second post. 😉

    It’s sad that people live in such a small and closed off world where there is no wonder at things outside their own little sphere of perception. I really feel sad for the first poster. They live in such a bleak and frighteningly small world.

  • Brian


    Why are you here?

    I mean, go frequent web sites devoted to your beloved causes, like “food banks, cancer research, etc”. It seems you aren’t happy here and you’re bringing the rest of us down.


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