NASA is planning on heading to Mars, though with far less Matt Damon than we’d all like. The next mission to the red planet is slated to study seismic tremors, in hopes to learn more about its interior. Unfortunately, those plans are being put on hold for an unknown amount of time.
Earlier this month, it was discovered that there was a leak in the vacuum-sealed sphere that holds three seismometers. These instruments were to be sent down to the surface in the InSight lander, where they would sit and listen for signs of movement through the crust. Essentially, they’re listening for earthquakes in much the same way scientists do back here on Earth. Though I suppose on Mars they would be called marsquakes.
By studying seismic activity, NASA hopes to be able to determine the boundaries of the crust, mantle, and core of the planet. Previous attempts to study this activity include the twin Viking landers back in the 1970’s, both of which carried similar instruments. Unfortunately due to their design, the wind on the planet interfered with their readings too much to be of any use in this aspect.
Even a minor hole in a vacuum-sealed environment could spell disaster for the mission. That’s why CNES, the French company who supplied the equipment has been working around the clock to repair the leak. Unfortunately, since they have been unable to make sufficient repairs, NASA has decided to delay the mission.
The mission was originally slated to launch in March of next year. While normally a setback of a month or two might not be that big of a deal, one has to take into account the relative orbits of both Earth and Mars. It would seem that the next available window for launch will be at least 26 months away.