Enlarge / An artist's concept depicts NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. (credit: NASA)

One of 2016’s most anticipated space missions will have to be postponed more than two years—and might even be canceled—due to a faulty seismometer. The InSight lander was to have launched in March and studied the interior structure and geological processes on Mars, including Martian tectonic activity.

The seismometer itself worked fine, NASA officials said, but there was a problem with the 22cm sphere that creates a vacuum so that the instrument can function on the harsh surface of Mars. Three times this summer and fall the sphere leaked, and three times engineers thought they had fixed the problem. Then, on Tuesday, a fourth leak was confirmed. With the launch date looming and not enough time to address the issue, NASA scientists had to make a difficult decision.

“This just reflects the difficulty when you challenge scientists and engineers to do things they’ve never done before,” said John Grunsfeld, who leads NASA’s science mission directorate, in a teleconference with reporters. “Sometimes things don’t work out.”

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