NASA suspended the planned launch of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission for March 2016. The agency made the announcement on Dec 22 after thorough examination and failed attempts to repair a leak in a section of the instrument in the science payload.

"Learning about the interior structure of Mars has been a high priority objective for planetary scientists since the Viking era," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a press release. "We push the boundaries of space technology with our missions to enable science, but space exploration is unforgiving, and the bottom line is that we're not ready to launch in the 2016 window. A decision on a path forward will be made in the coming months.”

Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) is a seismometer by France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) built to measure movements, as small as the diameter of an atom, in the ground. A leak has prevented the instrument from retaining vacuum seal to withstand the harsh environment in Mars. The team tried to repair the damage for months but, on Dec 21, the seismometer failed to hold a vacuum during a test in the extreme -45 degrees Celsius temperature.

"InSight's investigation of the Red Planet's interior is designed to increase understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved," InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt said. "Mars retains evidence about the rocky planets' early development that has been erased on Earth by internal churning Mars lacks. Gaining information about the core, mantle and crust of Mars is a high priority for planetary science, and InSight was built to accomplish this."

Marc Pircher, director of CNES's Toulouse Space Centre, stated that there is not enough time to fix another leak in time for a launch in 2016. Still, Jim Green said that the successes of Curiosity have vastly outweighed any disappointment about that delay.

The spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, will be returned from Vandenberg to Lockheed's facility in Denver. NASA said that the most favourable period for launching missions only lasts for a few weeks every 26 months. Apparently, the launch window would have been from March 4 to March 30, 2016.

The agency remains on track on an ambitious goal of sending humans to Mars. Other journeys to the Red Planet include the upcoming Mars 2020 rover, the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, the Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft and the MAVEN orbiter.

Additionally, NASA and CNES are joining the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Mars Express mission presently working at Mars. The agency also plans to participate on ESA's 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions to provide telecommunication radios for ESA's 2016 orbiter and a key element of an astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

"The JPL and CNES teams, and their partners, have made a heroic effort to prepare the InSight instrument, but have run out of time given the celestial mechanics of a launch to Mars," JPL Director Charles Elachi said. "It is more important to do it right than take an unacceptable risk."

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