It's almost time! Tomorrow the third Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site Workshop begins! I've tried to get everyone up to date by re-posting my reflections on last year'sworkshop, but there is a little more of the story to fill in. At the end of the workshop last year, we had narrowed down the list of possible landing sites to six sites: Nili Fossae, Mawrth Vallis, Holden Crater, Terby Crater, Miyamoto Crater, and Jezero Crater. However, that was not the final list! A few weeks after last year's meeting, the MSL Project Science Group had what became dubbed the "morning after meeting" to take a look at the list. After some deliberation, they added and removed a few sites so that the official list became:
Jezero was tossed after HiRISE images showed that the site was too rocky to land safely, and Terby was unsafe due to boulders and slopes, so it was replaced with Eberswalde: a crater with an ancient river delta preserved on its floor. North Meridiani was also added because it was a very very safe site.
So, with that list of six sites, everyone went forward studying them with all of the available data. The story is still not over though. Partway through this summer, it was announced that the project was willing to hear proposals for other sites if people really thought they were compelling! Several groups proposed new sites (or revived old ones) and the list changed again. The North Meridiani site was discarded because a site in "South Meridiani" (about 100 km south of where the Opportunity rover is) was proposed which had more science value and similar safety. Gale crater, a site that was originally proposed at the first workshop, only to be discarded, was revived due to some awesome new data.
So finally, the list of sites that we will be talking about over the next three days are:
If you want to learn more about these sites before I post my daily summaries this week, go check out the landing site web page: Marsoweb. It has links to lots of information about the landing sites, as well as all of the presentations from previous workshops. Our task is to narrow down to our three favorite sites, based on scientific merit. All of these sites have been studied extensively since last year, and it's going to be very interesting to hear what new data from HiRISE and CRISM reveal. The human element of this process is also interesting. A lot of people get very attached to "their" site, and egos and tempers can (and will) flare.
The tension is understandable. We're choosing where to land a 1.8 billion dollar rover! There are no "do overs" and people have been working on getting this mission ready for years. Everybody wants to see it go to the most interesting site possible, except they disagree on what is most interesting. It should be a fun week.