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European Space Agency Postpones Mission to Venus


The European Space Agency has postponed Wednesday's scheduled launch of the Venus Express after engineers discovered the spacecraft was contaminated by insulation from the Soyuz rocket launcher. Mission controllers are optimistic the mission to study the scorching atmosphere of the planet Venus will be back on track shortly.

Scientists with the European Space Agency say lift off will be delayed "at least one week" while technicians dismantle the space probe, clean it and remount it on the Soyuz.

The 570-kilogram Venus Express was scheduled to blast off Wednesday from Baikonur Cosmosdrome in Kazakhstan.

Stas Barabash, who is with the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna, is one of the mission's principal investigators.

"Space business is a very special area. So, it's of very, very little concern that something may go wrong. It is very important to take the decision and carefully investigate it, because we can't allow it to have any risks. So, I think it was a very good and a very right decision," Professor Barabash said.

Professor Barabash is overseeing one of eight experiments on the Venus Express, which is the first global undertaking to explore the planet's fiery atmosphere.

Venus is Earth's nearest planetary neighbor but has a surface temperature that approaches 500 degrees Celsius.

Professor Barabash's experiment involves a piece of equipment, called Aspera 4, which will measure the effect of solar winds on Venus.

Solar winds are a constant flow of gases emitted by the sun and spewed into the galaxy. Mr. Barabash says Earth also is bombarded by solar winds but the planet's magnetic field deflects them, making Earth habitable.

"In Venus' case, Venus does not have such magnetic field. And it means the solar winds interacts directly with the upper atmosphere of this planet. And it may have affected the planetary evolution of this planet. So, that is what we would like to study," he said.

The Venus atmosphere is comprised mostly of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas. Scientists hope the information they gather will give them clues about the impact of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by humans and gathering in earth's atmosphere.

The spacecraft will cruise through space for 153 days before reaching Venus, where it will spend 500 Earth days in elliptical polar orbit carrying out its mapping mission.

The European Space Agency has until November 24 to launch Venus Express. After that, the mission will have to be postponed until 2006.

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