New Mars rover to land in giant Gale crater

NASA picks Mars' giant 96 mile-wide Gale crater as the next stop of the new rover that will land on the Red Planet next year.

mars rover_311 reuters (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 missions.
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 assess habitability.