Monday, July 18, 2011

Mars rover's destination decided

Mars Rover
After years of deliberation, NASA says it will announce the destination for its next Mars rover on Friday at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.

Earlier this month, the choice was whittled down to two: NASA said the Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, would be launched either to Eberswalde Crater or Gale Crater. Today's announcement signals that a decision has been made.

Curiosity is already at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, undergoing final preparations for launch as early as Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving. The car-sized rover is scheduled to arrive at Mars in August 2012 to begin a primary scientific mission scheduled to last at least one Martian year, or roughly two Earth years.

Among the questions the $2.5 billion mission could answer: Were there areas on the Red Planet that could have been favorable for supporting microbial life? Could "molecular fossils" preserve the evidence of such life? Past missions have turned up evidence that ancient Mars was warmer and wetter than it is today, but how long did those life-friendly conditions last?

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