The Gale crater, which has been sitting just below the equator of Mars for at least three and half billion years, will soon become our neighbourhood when NASA’s next Mars rover lands on the planet in August 2012, according to a scientist.
The subcompact-car-sized Curiosity rover will arrive onto a carefully chosen patch of ground at the northwestern end of the 96-mile-diameter crater to set up NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) at Mars.
The goal of MSL is to assess whether Mars was ever a habitable environment, said Goddard’s Jim Rice.
“This region of Mars has no idea what is coming its way. It doesn’t know that once the rover arrives, nothing will ever be the same,” said Rice.
Rice, a planetary geologist, has been thinking about MSL’s landing because he participated in the process of choosing where the spacecraft will touch down.
That meant attending a series of site-selection workshops, along with researchers from across the planetary science community, to consider nearly 60 potential landing sites.
It also meant paying special attention to exactly how flat, how high, how windy, how dusty and how rocky certain regions of Mars are, as well as evaluating how interesting the geology is in those places.
“No matter where you go on Mars, it’s an exciting experience. No doubt Gale crater will be full of surprises when we land. But the best part is that we’ll get to know it,” he said.
“It will become a neighbourhood that we roam in, just like Gusev crater and Meridiani Planum, where the Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed. And just like them, Gale will become an extension of our human consciousness,” he added.