Friday, June 02, 2006
Like 3 years ahead. This week I participated in the 1st workshop on where to land the Mars Science Laboratory in 2009. The Mars Science Laboratory is a huge rover - it looks like a really big version of MER but it's got 3x as many instruments, an expected lifetime of 2 years, and a roving capability of more than 20 km. But, there's only one of them, not twins like the MERs, and everybody wants MSL to land in a different spot on Mars. We've only landed in 5 places so far, so the planet is wide open! I talked about my preference for going to ancient terrain where we can try to assess what the early crust of Mars was and how it was changed by water at a time in Martian history when we think conditions were less harsh than they are now. To my sincere surprise, the site I (and two other people) advocated generated a lot of interest and will be getting a lot of extra remote sensing time in the upcoming months to characterize it more and see if it really is as fantastic a landing site as we think it is. Even without that bonus, it was a really interesting workshop, where scientists from all different disciplines and backgrounds came together just to talk about what makes a good landing site and what we as a community are interested in seeing and what tools we have or can get to make sure we pick the best spot possible for this highly capable mission. I felt quite priviledged to be a part of it, and I have my involvement in MER to thank for giving me the entry point into the community of Mars science.