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NASA Mars probe still scheduled despite hitches

Despite admitting to technical and budgetary problems, the NASA space agency said it still planned to send its Mars Science Laboratory to the red planet in 2009. The car-sized robotic rover is designed to roam across the Martian landscape.

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US space agency NASA said Friday it still plans to launch an ambitious mission to Mars late next year despite technical hurdles and budget difficulties.

The mission aims to send a car-sized robotic rover, called the Mars Science Laboratory, to the red planet. Powered by a nuclear battery, it would be able to roam across the Martian landscape.

"A lot of hardware has been delivered, but there are still some hardware deliveries that are outstanding," said Doug McCuistion, director of Mars exploration at NASA during a conference call with reporters.

"Those outstanding items are putting schedule and budget pressures on the 2009 launch right now," he said. "But we can make 2009 and will continue toward the 2009 launch at this point."

McCuistion met with NASA chief Michael Griffin to discuss the project on Friday. Another meeting is planned for January.

He refused to comment on the extra cost of the project, over and above its 1.5 billion dollar (1.12 billion euro) budget.

The New York Times has reported that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in charge of building the spacecraft, believes it needs an additional 100 million dollars, on top of previous budget increases.

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