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There is no doubt NASA’s Curiosity rover was a massive success. Since it touched down on the Red Planet in 2012, it has traveled farther than any other planetary rover and sent a wealth of data back to Earth. NASA was hoping to follow that mission up by launching the InSight lander this month. However, an equipment failure in December cast doubt on the future of the mission. The agency has just announced that InSight will get to make the trip to Mars after all, but not for another two years.
Unlike Curiosity, InSight (which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is not a rover. When it reaches Mars, it will set up shop in one spot and start drilling into the surface. InSight is intended to study the inner workings of Mars, which would make it only the second planet to be studied internally; the first of course being Earth. InSight has three instruments to make this happen — the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), and Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE).
The cause of the delay was the SEIS instrument, which is a seismic activity monitor that will be placed on the surface next to the lander. It’s so sensitive it will be able to detect slight movements in the Martian crust and even asteroid impacts elsewhere on the planet. This instrument will only work if it can maintain a vacuum seal, but engineers detected a leak in December. With only a few months to go until launch, the mission had to be scrubbed.
Sounds like foul play to me.