Mars Landing Sites Recommended
30 Jan 2003
(Source: The Planetary Society)
Mars Exploration Rover Science Team Recommends Landing Sites
By A.J.S. Rayl
30 January 2003
The Mars Exploration Rovers Science Team, led by principal investigator Stephen Squyres, professor of astronomy at Cornell University, has made its recommendations to the Mission for landing sites: Meridiani Planum and Gusev Crater.
These sites are relatively near the landing sites of Viking 1 and Viking 2, and Mars Pathfinder.
Meridiani Planum is known as the "Hematite site," because scientists have previously discovered traces of the mineral there, which many researchers believe may have formed in an environment containing liquid water. If this place sounds familiar, it's because it's the same site that had been selected for Mars Surveyor 2001, which was cancelled after the Mars Planet Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander missions failed.
Gusev Crater, the crater into which the channel Ma'adim Vallis empties. It is also a crater that many Mars researchers believe almost certainly contained lake at some point, and possibly at several different times, in Mars' history.
These recommendations come after more than two years' worth of work by a host of scientists, who have been researching potential landing sites and analyzing the viability of each. Their goal was to find the best possible landing sites for the mission's objective of studying what planetary scientists call 'past' water on Mars. But that wasn't the only criteria. The locations also had to allow for the safe touchdown of the spacecraft.
Described as "a real mobile field-geology mission," by Jim Garvin, Mars program scientist at NASA Headquarters, the Mars Exploration Rovers' scientific objectives are to read the geologic record at their respective landing sites and to learn what the conditions were back when the rocks and soils were deposited.
So what's next?
These recommendations now go to a mission review board at JPL, which is managing the project, for NASA's Office of Space Science. The board, which is chaired by space systems engineer and science fiction novelist Gentry Lee, and also includes Scott Hubbard, Director of NASA Ames, astronaut Sally Ride, and Charley Kohlhase, retired JPL mission designer and member of The Planetary Society's Advisory Council, will meet March 26-27 to peer review the recommendations. The review board's decision and recommendation will then be forwarded onto Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., who, in turn, will make a formal decision April 10.
The twin Mars Exploration Rovers - whose names will be chosen in a special "Name the Mars Rovers" contest, jointly sponsored by NASA, The Planetary Society and the Lego Corporation -- will launch in May and June.