NASA’s Mars rover mission delayed by two years

Owing to continuing technical problems and cost overruns, NASA has delayed the launch of its SUV-sized, next-generation Mars rover for two years. This was announced by officials said at a media briefing at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.

The mission, which was originally scheduled to launch late next year, will now take place in 2011, that is, the next chance when the Earth and Mars come close to each other
- happening only once every 26 months.

The announced delay comes at a considerable cost - will add $400 million to the cost of the mission, and might result in layoffs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

At a news conference on Thursday, Michael D. Griffin, NASA's administrator, said: "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."

Griffin said the team at in Pasadena, California, which is building the spacecraft, did not do a good job of estimating costs. At the same time, he also added that in terms of the technical work, "Even in retrospect, they have not done anything wrong."

In fact, Mars Science Laboratory is one of the most challenging projects that NASA has ever undertaken. Like its cousins - the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity that landed on Mars in 2004 - MSL will be mobile. In addition, with a 43-inch-high deck, it will be able to drive right over obstacles that deterred earlier generations of rovers, and will carry an instrument payload ten times heavier.

The mission is designed to explore Mar's potential for habitability, both now and in the ancient past. Mission scientists are looking at several sites where orbiting spacecraft have seen evidence of wet conditions in the past.