NASA Mars Rover "Curiosity" Gets New, Smaller Landing Site
NASA is confident enough in the precision landing technology of the Mars rover's ability to avoid a large mountain, that they plan to land the rover closer to where it will conduct experiments.
"We're trimming the distance we'll have to drive after landing by almost half," said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "That could get us to the mountain months earlier."
The rover, Curiosity, is set to touch down in the Gale Crater, at the foot of Mount Sharp, near the equator on August 6th. The proposed landing site is only 4 miles wide by 12 miles long. This has been reduced from a previous elliptical landing area of 12 miles wide and 16 miles long.
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"We have been preparing for years for a successful landing by Curiosity, and all signs are good," said Dave Lavery, Mars Science Laboratory program executive at NASA. "However, landing on Mars always carries risks, so success is not guaranteed. Once on the ground we'll proceed carefully. We have plenty of time since Curiosity is not as life-limited as the approximate 90-day missions like NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers and the Phoenix lander."
Curiosity is five times larger than previous rovers sent to Mars. It weighs almost 2,000 pounds and its main purpose will be studying the geological makeup of Mars in order to help determine the possibility of life on the Red Planet.
"Organic carbon compounds in an environment are one prerequisite for life. We know meteorites deliver non-biological organic carbon to Mars, but not whether it persists near the surface. We will be checking for that and for other chemical and mineral clues about habitability," said John Grotzinger, the mission's project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Previous experiments have shown that there is a chance that the drill used by Curiosity could contaminate the soil samples with Teflon. However, scientists are confident they have enough time to figure out a solution.
"The material from the drill could complicate, but will not prevent analysis of carbon content in rocks by one of the rover's 10 instruments. There are workarounds," said Grotzinger.
To learn more about NASA's latest mission to Mars, see the official mission page.