After four years of debate, NASA announces Mars 2020 rover landing site.
Although today we know Mars as a desolate red planet, it wasn’t always this way. Mars had a molten core that generated a magnetic field for a billion years. The planet once was warm and covered in liquid seas.
There’s a chance that life, in some form, existed on Mars.
However, evidence of ancient Martian life has been elusive. That’s why NASA plans to send the Mars 2020 rover to study the potential for ancient life on the Red Planet.
From 2014 to 2018, NASA called a series of workshops to debate and determine the landing site for the Mars 2020 rover. Hundreds of scientists and engineers convened over several years to determine the landing site.
The landing site is more than a patch of land. The landing site will set the stage for the next decade of Mars research. At this location, Mars 2020 will gather rock and soil samples for future analysis.
NASA wanted to get the landing site right. That’s why they gathered years of input from the scientific community to find the perfect spot.
The heated debate
The final Mars 2020 discussion happened in Los Angeles in October 2018. During the three-day workshop, scientists from across the globe discussed and debated the merits of each potential landing site.
NASA started with 64 landing sites originally. By their final workshop, the potential sites were narrowed down to Columbia Hills, Jezero Crater, Northeast Syrtis, and Midway.
After days of lively debate, NASA collected attendees’ findings. In November 2018, NASA announced their final decision, determined through collaboration with the scientific community.
NASA determined Jezero Crater will be the landing site for Mars 2020.
The Mars 2020 mission in Jezero
Jezero is the Serbian word for “lake.” This giant crater measures 30 miles across and is 1,600 feet deep.
Evidence suggests Jezero contained water in its basin for half a billion years. NASA scientists have detected evidence of minerals and compounds in Jezero that can only form in the presence of water.
NASA chose Jezero over other landing sites because of its history. Jezero is host to a fossilized river delta created from water trickling into the ancient Crater Lake.
This large lake would have been very habitable in early Mars. Water does a better job at preserving biosignatures and evidence of life, increasing the likelihood of discovering evidence of life.
And that’s just what Mars 2020 intends to do.
The goal of the Mars 2020 mission is to find signs of habitable conditions on Mars. While Mars 2020 will focus on ancient Mars conditions, it will also assess current natural resources and hazards for future human exploration.
Mars 2020 will look for signs of ancient microbial life on Mars. The $2.4 billion rover will collect three dozen tubes’ worth of geological samples from Mars.
The rover will deposit these soil samples in a cache on the surface, where they’ll remain until future explorations return the samples to Earth.
NASA says retrieval missions could happen as soon as the late 2020s.
The future of Mars exploration
Mars 2020 will launch in July 2020 and land on Mars in February 2021. This rover mission has important implications for the future of human space exploration.
Mars has a geographically rich terrain. Soil samples could answer many questions about planetary evolution. This analysis could also enhance human understanding of the Martian landscape, giving us critical information for future manned missions.