Atlas V suffers scrub

by Chris Bergin

NASA was forced to scrub the launch of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on top of a Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral today – on a mission to collect data from the Red Planet.

The launch was delayed from Wednesday due to problem with a gyro on the spaceship. A problem with the sensors that measure the amount of fuel being loaded into the rocket appeared just minutes before lift-off today.

MRO is expected to spend four years circling Mars, collecting information that will help NASA plan where to land two robotic explorers later this decade and possible future human exploration of the Red Planet. Mars is a later stage of the Vision for Space Exploration – which was re-started with the Return to Flight of the Shuttle fleet.

“With the subsurface of Mars, we’ve literally just scratched the surface and we’re trying to probe, now, more than a couple of feet into it,” said project scientist Richard Zurek of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The orbiter will join three other spacecrafts, including a European orbiter, when it arrives at the planet in March 2006. Two NASA rovers launched in 2003, Spirit and Opportunity, also continue to roam the planet – way beyond their expected lifespans – providing information on Mars.

The Atlas V will be followed by yet another launch on Saturday – in the busy NASA calendar – via a Boeing Delta 4 rocket carrying GOES-N Sat (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite N) to an orbit of 22,300 miles.

NASA will try again tomorrow to launch MRO.

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