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11.24.2008

The Politics of Landing

These three images show the Mars Science Laboratory rover and its protective aeroshell being mounted to its cruise structure. The first image shows the car-size rover tucked inside one part of its aeroshell, the 'backshell.' There are two of the rover's six wheels showing at the front of the image. The second image shows the rover and backshell flipped over and mounted for the first time on top of the ring-shaped cruise structure. The final image shows the cruise structure (the 'ring' on top) and one part of the aeroshell (the backshell with the rover inside) flipped over and the bottom of the aeroshell (the black heat shield) being added. There are four mission team members in the foreground.

Electing where to send a rover on the diverse landscape of Mars is no easy task. With a lot at stake, two sides of the Mars team--scientists and engineers--have been lobbying for the best candidate landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory rover.

Scientists have been poring over data from Mars orbiters. They have searched for sites that are most likely to help us understand Mars' ability to support life in the past. In September 2008, the scientists narrowed their favorites to seven.

Meanwhile, engineers have been studying the safety of each landing site. They scoped out dangerous rocks and hills to understand how well the rover can drive over each terrain. Then, they produced their own "party's" picks.

In November, the scientists and engineers united in a "caucus" to choose their favorite four sites (labeled in white). In Spring 2009, they can jointly make a recommendation to NASA for the final vote.

More About Each Proposed Site:

Eberswalde Crater   |   Gale Crater   |   Holden Crate   |   Mawrth Vallis


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