Northeast Syrtis, Jezero crater and Columbia Hills, these are the names of the shortlisted landing sites for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s upcoming mission to Mars. The unmanned mission, set to start in 2020, will carry another rover to the Red Planet. Its’ primary objective will be to conduct further geological assessments of the area, hopefully helping uncover Mars’ history and identify properties such as it’s’ natural resources and hazards, which could help pave the way for future human exploration.
This will not be the first unmanned mission to Mars, and most probably not the last. Scientists have strived to land its’ probes and rovers onto the surface of the red planet since 1962, when a Soviet lander failed to launch. Since then, there have been several successful and unsuccessful attempts at furthering our knowledge of Mars. Soviet scientists first saw success from probes they launched in the 1970s, this was then followed by America’s rover program in the ‘80s and ‘90s which have continued to this day. The European Space Agency’s only attempt resulted in a malfunction with the lander in 2003.
The news surrounding NASA’s new Mars mission marks another promising development in space science for 2017, after two successful launches earlier in the year – one by NASA, and another by its European counterpart. Whilst there is still another three years left and a lot of planning to be done prior to the launch of the mission, several things are already clear: the Mars 2020 mission is expected to launch in July of that year aboard the Atlas V541 rocket from NASA’s Space Launch Complex in Florida.
Although the three potential landing sites have been shortlisted, it is understood that the final choice will most likely announced closer to the launch date, with earliest estimates suggesting NASA scientists will disclose the chosen location next year. The criteria for choosing an adequate site involve analyzing the topography and taking in the geological location, considering several factors relating not only to the landing conditions, but also what scientific data could be yielded from those areas.