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PRESS RELEASE
07.22.2011
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA's Next Mars Rover to Land at Gale Crater

msl20110722_hmpg.jpg
Gale Crater: Future Home of Mars Rover Curiosity
This view of Gale is a mosaic of observations made in the visible-light portion of the spectrum by the Thermal Emission Imaging System camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's next Mars rover will land at the foot of a layered mountain inside the planet’s Gale Crater.

The car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is scheduled to launch late this year and land in August 2012. The target crater spans 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a mountain rising higher from the crater floor than Mount Rainier rises above Seattle. Gale is about the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Layering in the mound suggests it is the surviving remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. The crater is named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale.

"Mars is firmly in our sights," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Curiosity not only will return a wealth of important science data, but it will serve as a precursor mission for human exploration to the Red Planet."

During a prime mission lasting one Martian year -- nearly two Earth years -- researchers will use the rover's tools to study whether the landing region had favorable environmental conditions for supporting microbial life and for preserving clues about whether life ever existed.

"Scientists identified Gale as their top choice to pursue the ambitious goals of this new rover mission," said Jim Green, director for the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The site offers a visually dramatic landscape and also great potential for significant science findings."

In 2006, more than 100 scientists began to consider about 30 potential landing sites during worldwide workshops. Four candidates were selected in 2008. An abundance of targeted images enabled thorough analysis of the safety concerns and scientific attractions of each site. A team of senior NASA science officials then conducted a detailed review and unanimously agreed to move forward with the MSL Science Team's recommendation. The team is comprised of a host of principal and co-investigators on the project.

Curiosity is about twice as long and more than five times as heavy as any previous Mars rover. Its 10 science instruments include two for ingesting and analyzing samples of powdered rock that the rover's robotic arm collects. A radioisotope power source will provide heat and electric power to the rover. A rocket-powered sky crane suspending Curiosity on tethers will lower the rover directly to the Martian surface.

The portion of the crater where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments. The layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and sulfates, both known to form in water.

"One fascination with Gale is that it's a huge crater sitting in a very low-elevation position on Mars, and we all know that water runs downhill," said John Grotzinger, the mission's project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "In terms of the total vertical profile exposed and the low elevation, Gale offers attractions similar to Mars' famous Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system."

Curiosity will go beyond the "follow-the-water" strategy of recent Mars exploration. The rover's science payload can identify other ingredients of life, such as the carbon-based building blocks of biology called organic compounds. Long-term preservation of organic compounds requires special conditions. Certain minerals, including some Curiosity may find in the clay and sulfate-rich layers near the bottom of Gale's mountain, are good at latching onto organic compounds and protecting them from oxidation.

"Gale gives us attractive possibilities for finding organics, but that is still a long shot," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at agency headquarters. "What adds to Gale's appeal is that, organics or not, the site holds a diversity of features and layers for investigating changing environmental conditions, some of which could inform a broader understanding of habitability on ancient Mars."

The rover and other spacecraft components are being assembled and are undergoing final testing. The mission is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of Caltech.

To view the landing site and for more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.


All Related Images
  • NASA has selected Gale crater as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Gale Crater: Future Home of Mars Rover Curiosity
  • NASA has selected Gale crater as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Gale Crater: Future Home of Mars Rover Curiosity (Unannotated)
  • This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater.
    Oblique view of Gale Crater from the Northwest
  • This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater.
    Oblique view of Gale Crater from the Northwest (Unannotated)
  • This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light.
    Daybreak at Gale Crater
  • This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate.
    Context of Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater, with Ellipse
  • This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The mission's selected landing site is just north of the mound inside the crater.
    Context of Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater
  • This oblique view of Gale Crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The landing site is in the smooth area in front of the mound.
    Canyons on Mountain Inside Gale Crater, Annotated
  • This oblique view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate.
    Canyons on Mountain Inside Gale Crater
  • This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater on Mars shows an area of top scientific interest for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Lower Portion of Mound Inside Gale Crater
  • This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater on Mars shows an area of top scientific interest for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Lower Portion of Mound Inside Gale Crater
  • This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater shows layers of rock that preserve a record of environments on Mars.
    Rock Layers in Lower Mound in Gale Crater
  • This oblique view of the mound in Gale Crater shows several different rock types of interest to the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Rock Types in Gale Crater, Annotated
  • This oblique view of the mound in Gale crater shows several different rock types of interest to the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Rock Types in Gale Crater
  • This map of Mars shows all of the more than 60 landing sites proposed for the Mars Science Laboratory (red dots) and the four final candidate sites (blue dots).
    More Than 60 Sites Considered for Next Mars Rover Landing
  • An area inside Eberswalde crater was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Eberswalde Crater, a Finalist Not Selected as Landing Site for Curiosity
  • An area inside Gale crater was selected as the landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Gale Crater, the Selected Landing Site for Curiosity
  • An area inside Holden crater was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Holden Crater, a Finalist Not Selected as Landing Site for Curiosity
  • Mawrth Vallis was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.
    Mawrth Vallis, a Finalist Not Selected as a Landing Site for Curiosity
  • This drawing of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity, indicates the location of science instruments and some other tools on the car-size rover.
    Diverse Science Payload on Mars Rover Curiosity
  • The area in and near the landing site selected for landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory offers a diversity of possible targets for examination by the mission's rover, Curiosity.
    Attractions for Study in and near Curiosity's Selected Landing Site
  • The lower portion of a mountain inside Gale crater on Mars contains layers that may be examined by NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.
    Attractions in Layers of Mountain Inside Gale Crater
  • One type of feature of scientific interest on the mountain inside Gale crater is exposure of cemented fractures, evidence that groundwater once reached to at least that height of the mountain.
    Cemented Fractures in Mountain Inside Gale Crater on Mars
  • Spacecraft specialists test the descent stage and rover of the Mars Science Laboratory in this scene from the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    Testing for Mars Science Laboratory Descent
  • This stereoscopic anaglyph image was created from a left and right stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.
    Mars Science Laboratory Mission's Curiosity Rover (Stereo)
  • This is the left-eye member of a stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.
    Mars Science Laboratory Mission's Curiosity Rover (Left Eye of Stereo)
  • This is the right-eye member of a stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.
    Mars Science Laboratory Mission's Curiosity Rover (Right Eye of Stereo)

2011-222

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov


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