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NASA Temporarily Halts Work On New Mars Rover

May 25, 2011

Officials said Tuesday that work to prepare NASA’s new Mars rover for launch has been halted to allow safety reviews after a crane operations accident at the Kennedy Space Center.

The mishap involved part of the protective aeroshell cover for the $2 billion Mars Science Laboratory while trying to attach the two sections of the 15-foot.

Project manager Richard Cook told Reuters that on Friday, a crane operator from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California accidentally hit the wrong button and ended up lifting the 15-foot diameter aeroshell while it was attached to a table weighing about 2,000 pounds.

“The lift engineer says ‘Go down,’ and the crane operator says ‘Going down’ and unfortunately, in this particular case, pushed the other button and so the crane went up rather than down,” Cook told Reuters.

“The backshell was lifted up a little bit and because the table that it sits on was attached to it still, it also lifted the table up.”

The attachment that points to the table are not the same ones that will be used to clamp together the actual flight hardware, but NASA was concerned lifting the extra weight could have weakened the backshell’s structure.

“We’ve been doing stress analysis for the last couple of days. Essentially the initial results of that look like we basically are OK,” Cook said.

The rover must be launched between November 25 and December 18 when Earth and Mars are optimally aligned for the nine-month journey to Mars, or the project will face a two-year delay.

The aeroshell was built by Lockheed Martin and arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on May 12.  The rover is due to arrive in June.

Image Caption: This artist concept features NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars’ past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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