mars rover_311 reuters.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Mars' Gale crater will be the next stop for the new Mars Science Laboratory that will make its maiden voyage to the Red Planet later this year, NASA scientists announced on Friday.
"This is a five-kilometer high mountain with layered terrain. It exhibits three different kinds of environmental settings, perhaps a trilogy of Mars history, and it's a worthy goal, a worthy challenge for such a capable rover," Mike Meyer, lead scientist of the Mars Exploration Program said.
NASA said the giant target crater is 96 miles (154 kilometers) wide and holds great potential for significant science findings.
"We think it has exceptionally high diversity for different kinds of habitable environment and it is possible that some of those might preserve organic carbon," said John Grotziner, project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory.
NASA's new $2.5 billion (USD) rover, named Curiosity, will launch later this year and is due to land on Mars in August 2012.
Curiosity is about four times bigger and has many more science
instruments than NASA's last Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, which
reached the Red Planet in 2004 for what were expected to be three-month
Seven years later, Spirit is no longer working, but Opportunity remains
operational. Those rovers were dispatched to look for signs of past
water on Mars.
The new rover's bigger size and more robust science capabilities are
intended to answer a thornier riddle: Does the Red Planet have, or has
it ever had, the right conditions for microbial life to arise?
The rover is designed to spend at least one Martian year -- the
equivalent of almost two Earth years -- surveying the selected region to
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