Next-gen Mars rover mission delayed until 2011

NASA delays the mission for two years due to technical difficulties and cost overruns. It also makes plans to try to contact the out-of-commission Phoenix lander.

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NASA will delay the launch of the next-generation Mars rover two years due to technical difficulties and cost overruns.

The mission, which was originally scheduled for late next year, is now slated for 2011, officials said Thursday, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. The new target date was the earliest available because missions to Mars can be launched only every 26 months, when the Earth and Mars are properly aligned.

The SUV-size rover, known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is designed to explore the planet's surface for the possibility of habitability, both current and past. But problems developed in the design and operation of the 31 actuators that control the mechanics of the craft, including the steering mechanism and its robotic arm, according to the report.

Meanwhile, NASA plans to try to contact the Mars Phoenix lander in the Martian spring, according to a Reuters report. The Phoenix, which landed on Mars in May, last communicated with the Mars Odyssey orbiter on November 2, when the lander lost power and shut down.

NASA had expected the Phoenix to lose power during the harsh Martian winter, when temperatures dip to negative 150 degrees Fahrenheit. But NASA said there is a chance that the lander survived the winter and will try to re-establish contact in the Martian spring.