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NASA spoilt for choice over landing site for Mars rover


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NASA is spoilt for choice when it comes to landing sites for its next Mars rover. "There are billions of potential landing sites," says NASA planetary scientist Matt Golombek. "For the first time, we are being given the opportunity to go anywhere on Mars."

For its 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission NASA had about 10 possible landing sites, and about 150 for the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The UK's Beagle had just one.

The new rover, called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), set for launch in 2009, will be a robotic geology station. New landing technology and techniques will allow it to target an area a mere 20 kilometres in diameter. In contrast, Beagle's target area was some 500 kilometres across. The extra precision also means the MSL will be able to home in on highland landing sites up to 2 kilometres above Mars's average surface level.

MSL won't be touching down blind, either. The top 30 sites, which were selected last week at NASA's First Landing Site Workshop in Pasadena, California, will be probed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is now circling the Red Planet.

Source: New Scientist


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