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Rocks: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Sites with too many rocks of any size are not desirable either, because a densely populated rock field can create a treacherous obstacle course for a rover. "Too many rocks inhibit mobility, but then again, you're going there to look at the rocks," said Golombek, pointing out another area where safety and scientific appeal must compromise.

The site evaluation process started in September 2000 when Golombek and fellow scientist Tim Parker (also at JPL) identified nearly 200 possible landing sites that met the basic engineering constraints. Subsequent work and meetings have reduced that to four prime candidates and two backups. By May of 2002, a region measuring 600 by 900 kilometers will be selected - one for each rover. At that time, targeting data will be hardwired into the launch vehicles that will carry each rover . After launch, the two spacecraft will be more finely targeted during their cruises to Mars based on detailed navigation measurements taken on the way. At that time, the final landing boundary will be narrowed to a football-shaped ellipse of about 100 to 200 kilometers long by 20 kilometers wide.

Mars Global Surveyor, an orbiter currently at Mars, has provided global elevation data through its laser altimeter, surface temperature and mineralogical readings from the thermal emission spectrometer, and images from the camera. New data collected by these instruments will be used to better characterize the sites in coming months. In addition, the recently arrived 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter will start taking routine scientific data in early 2002, which will also be used in determining the final two sites selected.

<< Narrowing the Options The Four Finalists and their Runners-Up >>

Full Text
Where to Land on Mars? It's not as Easy as It Looks
    Narrowing the Options
    Rocks: Too Much of a Good Thing?
    The Four Finalists and their Runners-Up

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