NASA stages for next chapter of Mars exploration with 2020 landing site

Ancient water canals leading out of the Jezero Crater

Ancient water canals leading out of the Jezero

In a new blog post, NASA reveals that it has chosen a site known as the Jezero Crater to be the landing area for Mars 2020.

Between 3.5 billion and 3.9 billion years ago, when simple life forms were emerging on Earth, a river flowed through a delta system into a lake on Mars, then a warm and wet planet.

The $2.5 billion (roughly Rs. 17,800 crores) rover is planned to launch in July 2020, and land in February 2021.

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Mars 2020 is created to land inside the crater and collect samples that will eventually be returned to Earth for further analysis, perhaps by the later 2020s.

"Mars is really the obvious place, after the Moon, to go and expand our presence in deep space", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate. "Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionize how we think about Mars and its ability to harbor life". This makes it a prime spot for preserving possible signs of ancient microbial life. In addition, the material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater.

The technology: The geologic diversity that makes Jezero such an appealing landing site also makes landing there a huge technical challenge for engineers.

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Jezero Crater, whose name comes from the Serbian word for lake, won out over three other finalist sites near the Martian equator: Midway and Northeast Syrtis, plus Columbia Hills (which is where NASA's Spirit rover roamed a decade ago). A huge river delta surrounds the crater and stretches for many miles in several directions. This allowed the science community to consider more challenging landing sites.

Jezero Crater's selection is still "dependent upon extensive analyses and verification testing" according to NASA, and a final report will be given to NASA HQ towards the end of 2019.

"Because there are so many ancient rocks on the surface of Mars, this information is more accessible", said Meyer. "The team will continue their work to truly understand the TRN system and the risks involved, and we will review the findings independently to reassure we have maximized our chances for success".

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It's been numerous years really taking shape, however, NASA's Mars 2020 wanderer mission is right now in the home stretch.

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