Selecting a Landing Site on Mars for MSL

Gale Crater: Exploring the Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site

Apr. 12 & 13

The selection of Gale crater as the Mars Science Laboratory landing site took over 5 years, involved broad participation of the science community via five open workshops, and narrowed an initial >50 sites (25 by 20 km) to four finalists (Eberswalde, Gale, Holden and Mawrth) based on science and safety. Science criteria important for the selection include the ability to assess past habitable environments, which include diversity, context, and biosignature (including organics) preservation. All of the final four sites have layered sedimentary rocks with spectral evidence for phyllosilicates that clearly address the science objectives of the mission. Engineering constraints important to the selection included: latitude (±30°), elevation (<-1 km), relief at baselines of 1 km, slopes at baselines of 2-5 m, rock abundance, and a radar-reflective, load-bearing, and trafficable surface that is safe for landing and roving. Sites were evaluated in detail using targeted data from instruments on all active orbiters, and especially Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Sophisticated entry, descent and landing simulations that include detailed information on all of the engineering constraints indicate all of the final four sites are safe for landing. Evaluation of the traversability of the landing sites and target “go to” areas outside of the ellipse using slope and material properties information indicates that all are trafficable and “go to” sites can be accessed within the lifetime of the mission. In the final selection, Gale crater was favored over Eberswalde based on its greater diversity and potential habitability.

Dr. Matthew Golombek
Senior Research Scientist
Mars Exploration Program Landing Site Scientist
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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