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In this image taken on May 20, 2020 at the Kennedy Space Center, engineers and technicians insert 39 sample tubes into the belly of the rover. Each tube is sheathed in a gold-colored cylindrical enclosure to protect it from contamination. Perseverance rover will carry 43 sample tubes to the Red Planet's Jezero Crater. Photo from NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA delays Mars rover launch again with 2 weeks left to fly

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA has delayed the launch of its newest Mars rover yet again — to the end of July at the earliest — this time for a rocket issue.

If the Perseverance rover isn’t on its way by mid-August, it will have to wait until 2022 when Earth and Mars are back in proper alignment, costing NASA close to $500 million for the delay alone.

Managers are now targeting no earlier than July 30 for a liftoff from Cape Canaveral, eating up half of the monthlong launch window. The good news is that NASA is trying to eke out more time in this summer’s launch opportunity, now lasting until at least Aug. 15. The chance to fly to Mars comes up only every 26 months.

It is NASA’s most ambitious Mars mission yet, totaling around $3 billion. Besides seeking signs of past microscopic Martian life, Perseverance will gather rocks and soil for eventual return to Earth.

Rocket maker United Launch Alliance needs extra time to deal with a liquid oxygen sensor line that showed questionable readings during a recent practice countdown, officials said Tuesday. Previous technical concerns — including crane trouble at the pad — bumped the launch from the original July 17 to the 20th and then 22nd.

Perseverance will still attempt a touchdown next February in an ancient river delta at Mars, regardless of when it launches.

The United Arab Emirates and China, meanwhile, still are pressing ahead with launches this month or next of Mars spacecraft. Russia and the European Space Agency had to bow out, delaying their Mars rover until 2022 because of delayed spacecraft testing and travel limitations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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