Landing site selection

Due to the capabilities of the Mars Science Laboratory and its means of power, it will not be limited to a narrow equatorial band on Mars. Vast regions of Mars are now open for exploration, up to plus and minus sixty degrees of latitude, and this makes the task of MSL landing site selection both exciting and difficult. Early in 2006, NASA issued a Call for Abstracts for the First Landing Site Workshop for the 2009 NASA Mars Science Laboratory Mission, which was held in Pasadena, California in June 2006. NASA's Mars Site Steering Committee, co-chaired by Matt Golombek of JPL and John Grant of the Smithsonian Institution, would use the abstracts presented to begin the scientific debate in narrowing the choices first to thirty, then to ten potential landing sites, ready for the eventual selection of the most desirable single site which will be determined in 2009. Among the candidates for landing sites presented at the workshop were Gale Crater, Argyre Planitia, Holden Crater, Eberswalde Crater, Terby Crater, various sites within the massive Valles Marineris, Meridiani Planum, and other proposed sites. With over 120 principal investigators, co-investigators and collaborators involved in the MSL program, NASA plans to hold the site selection workshops annually until 2009 when the final chosen site will be picked. Orbital assets such as NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and ESA's Mars Express will be used by the Mars Site Steering Committee to narrow the field of potential proposed sites. Factors influencing site selection include the operational mission of the MSL, latitude, altitude from minus two kilometers to no greater than two kilometers (with the lower altitudes preferable), a landing ellipse within ten kilometers with a surface slope of fifteen degrees or less within a five meter length, scaled to ensure rover landing stability and mobility, rock size and ruggedness of the landing area, prevailing and surface winds, and other factors. The scientific data returned from Sojourner and Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity will contribute to the decision-making process for the MSL landing site.

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