The launch of a Mars rover that is meant to help discover whether life on the planet ever existed has been postponed for at least two years amid recent travel restrictions surrounding the quickly spreading coronavirus.
In a Thursday statement, Dmitry Rogozin – director general of Roscosmos Space Corporation, the Russian group teaming up with the European Space Agency (ESA) on the ExoMars Mission – said that they had “made a difficult but well-weighted decision to postpone the launch,” which was set for this summer, “to 2022.”
“It is driven primarily by the need to maximise the robustness of all ExoMars systems as well as force majeure circumstances related to exacerbation of the epidemiological situation in Europe which left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries,” Rogozin added.
News of the delay came one day after President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel from most of Europe in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an address from the Oval Office on Wednesday, Trump, 73, said the government would “be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days,” with the exception of the U.K.
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The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover (named in honor of the late groundbreaking English chemist, X-ray crystallographer and DNA/RNA researcher) was set to launch in July from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and land on Mars in February 2021. It is now scheduled to take off between August and October 2022, according to Spaceflight Now.
Its mission is to search for past evidence of life and “provide further insights into the planet’s history of water,” according to the Associated Press, partly through using a drill to collect samples from beneath the planet’s soil.
In a December statement to the press, NASA scientists also said the purpose of the project would be to serve as a “precursor to a human mission to Mars.”
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ESA Director General Jan Wörner said of the launch postponement in a statement, “We want to make ourselves 100 percent sure of a successful mission. We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars.”
Rogozin added that he is “confident that the steps that we and our European colleagues are taking to ensure mission success will be justified and will unquestionably bring solely positive results for the mission implementation.”
“I want to thank the teams in industry that have been working around the clock for nearly a year to complete assembly and environmental testing of the whole spacecraft,” Wörner said. “We are very much satisfied of the work that has gone into making a unique project a reality and we have a solid body of knowledge to complete the remaining work as quickly as possible.”
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