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Mars rover Curiosity  (Source:
Curiosity is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November 25, 2011, and will land on Mars in August 2012. The decision regarding its landing site is expected to be made this month

After recently retiring Mars rover Spirit, NASA is introducing a new Mars probe called Curiosity. While the rover is expected to launch later this year, one critical question remains unanswered: where will it land?

NASA rover Curiosity is a $2.5 billion, nuclear-powered machine that is the size of a Mini Cooper, and is four times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity. Curiosity contains a laser that can vaporize rocks at seven meters, a percussive drill, a large robot arm and a weather station. In addition, it has 4.8kg of plutonium-238.

Curiosity's main mission on Mars is to find organic compounds as a "telltale sign" that life have existed on Mars. The problem is that scientist's must decide on a landing area that will most likely contain such evidence.

So far, scientist's have narrowed the choices down to four options: Eberswalde Crater, Mawrth Vallis, Gale Crater and Holden Crater.

"Each site has things that make it good and things that make it not quite so good," said planetary scientist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It's kind of hard to select because it boils down to which kind of science is important to you, and that's almost personal."

Eberswalde Crater contains a delta, which is believed to be a buildup of sediment left by flowing water. This could be advantageous in finding preserved organics and biosignatures. However, these deposits could be just clay-dusted rocks, and if that's the case, the entire mission would be a waste of time. But Golombek notes that this particular crater has the highest chance of finding organics.

Mawrth Vallis has exposed valley walls that are almost as old as the planet at 3.7 billion years old. These walls contain a lot of Martian history, and are stacked hundreds of meters thick with exposed clays called phyllosilicates, which form in the presence of water, as well as sedimentary rocks. But the problem with this landing area is that scientist's do not know how it formed, and that the water may have been to acidic to support life.

Gale Crater features a mound of debris that is 3 miles above the crater floor, and contains layered deposits of sulfates and clays. This site is particularly interesting because its the only one that has both materials (sulfates and clays). But again, scientist's don't know how it formed.

Holden Crater is a 93-mile wide crater with gullies, which "tail off" into deposits that were covered in water at one time. In addition, the crater has many ancient rocks called breccia, which have fallen, broken and cemented together by landslides, meteor impact or floods.

While the landing site is still undecided, what scientist's do know is that the rover will land within a 12.4-by-15.5 mile targeted area, which is a very precise touchdown that could not be accomplished before, hence, certain sites couldn't be accomplished before. Curiosity will be able to achieve what other rovers couldn't between its precise landing technique and the use of 10 science instruments that will allow it to detect any organics present.

Curiosity is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November 25, 2011, and will land on Mars in August 2012. The decision regarding its landing site is expected to be made this month.

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Life on Mars
By BSMonitor on 7/5/2011 11:47:23 AM , Rating: 2
Are these rovers 100% completely sterilized?? Or are we transporting bacteria and others to Mars with each one of these.

RE: Life on Mars
By Bubbacub on 7/5/2011 12:17:42 PM , Rating: 2
not sterile (but not covered in poo either) - if our bacteria can survive unmodified on mars then that would be pretty cool.

RE: Life on Mars
By Bubbacub on 7/5/2011 12:18:38 PM , Rating: 2
actually my comment was based on satellites - it would make sense to make a life searching probe sterile!

RE: Life on Mars
By Solandri on 7/5/2011 3:13:38 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, most everything sent on interplanetary missions is sterilized to avoid precisely the problem you're alluding to.

RE: Life on Mars
By DanNeely on 7/5/2011 5:03:40 PM , Rating: 2
That's true of the recent wave of probes; but no one at Nasa considered the risk of bacteria surviving the flight during the Viking missions in the 70's; so a confirmation of life on Mars by itself isn't a slam dunk for native Martian life.

RE: Life on Mars
By Solandri on 7/5/2011 6:26:15 PM , Rating: 3
The first two pics on this page of the link I gave are of NASA sterilizing the Viking landers. As one of the main purposes of the Viking missions was to run an experiment to detect signs of microbial life, failing to sterilize would've defeated the purpose of the mission.

RE: Life on Mars
By delphinus100 on 7/6/2011 10:21:35 PM , Rating: 2
It's been true from day one. Not wanting to assume anything, even the earliest Lunar probes were sterilized.

RE: Life on Mars
By Jeffk464 on 7/5/2011 11:35:15 PM , Rating: 1
You know if NASA would just take that laser off curiosity design a targeting system that targets cops laser/radar guns they could make a real fortune. :) What a waist of engineering talent designing these things for Mars.

RE: Life on Mars
By drycrust3 on 7/5/2011 12:21:47 PM , Rating: 2
Or are we transporting bacteria and others to Mars with each one of these.

The conditions on Mars are very close to those we would consider suitable for preservation, which means bacteria that do survive could lie dormant until a suitable climate is found, e.g. a nice cosy human habitation in 1000 years time.

RE: Life on Mars
By BSMonitor on 7/5/2011 1:58:26 PM , Rating: 2

There is sunlight, moisture although very small amounts, Oxygen, CO2.. What else would the bacteria that survive the trip need from Mars to thrive? We see on Earth all kinds of different forms of bacteria living in the harshest climates.

For something like this, seems like they would want to be absolutely careful not to transport alien bacteria to Mars, until it is certain no life exists there now. My point is, no one makes mention of this. Perhaps compartments of the landing capsule aren't sterile. Parts of the rover that are not directly related to experiments.

We may not be certain how difficult or easy it is for life to spring up. But for certain, life here flourishes quickly given the opportunity.

Almost certainly there are bacteria living/dormant on the remaining pieces of the Apollo equipment left on the moon.

RE: Life on Mars
By theapparition on 7/5/2011 2:15:48 PM , Rating: 2
Not sure why you were rated down in your original comment. But to answer your question, an absolute yes. Nasa is very concerned about contamination and has effectively sterilized the craft. Typical articles don't go towards that level of detail, but it is a major concern and one addressed by Nasa.

RE: Life on Mars
By Reclaimer77 on 7/5/2011 6:32:30 PM , Rating: 3
Cross contamination policies in NASA started in 1967. The Viking missions were in the 70's. Interesting discussion, but I believe we can be reasonably assured we didn't put life on Mars in the form of microbes. And while much more heartier bacteria has been found on Earth, I don't see how the more common ones that would be present in a NASA lab or launchpad could possibly have survived the trip through Mars's atmosphere.

RE: Life on Mars
By themengsk176 on 7/5/2011 7:32:29 PM , Rating: 2
I really have to wonder if there is much risk of contaminating Mars with Terran microbes.

I mean, they would have to survive a trip of two years, 80 million KM in the depths of space, not to mention be capable of surviving on Mars, which in itself is quite hostile to life.

RE: Life on Mars
By delphinus100 on 7/6/2011 10:26:11 PM , Rating: 2
It isn't just a matter of surviving on the way there. You don't want a life detection experiment to 'discover' even inactive organic material that was brought along.

Wrong picture
By MrTeal on 7/5/2011 11:42:54 AM , Rating: 2
The picture you have posted up is of the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), not Curiosity.

RE: Wrong picture
By MrTeal on 7/5/2011 11:49:42 AM , Rating: 2
Much better, thanks. :)

RE: Wrong picture
By Lord 666 on 7/5/2011 12:22:01 PM , Rating: 2
Do you have a Cherry 2000 at home? You have a keen eye for robots.

RE: Wrong picture
By MrTeal on 7/5/2011 12:43:02 PM , Rating: 2
Now that's an obscure reference, I had to look that one up. Can't say I do, but if she can do laundry and weed the garden I'd sure appreciate one.

As for the eye for robots, the image they had up there
is just about the most iconic rover image there is, and has been around for probably 10 years. It's pretty easy to spot.

RE: Wrong picture
By theapparition on 7/5/2011 2:16:34 PM , Rating: 5
Cherry 2000 did more than laundry and gardening. ;)

Good Article
By icanhascpu on 7/5/2011 2:59:40 PM , Rating: 3
Hope to see more like it.

It's obvious
By GuinnessKMF on 7/5/2011 12:46:39 PM , Rating: 2
"It's kind of hard to select because it boils down to which kind of science is important to you, and that's almost personal."

The kind of science that's important to me?! Duh, Portal science! Moon rocks, Mars rocks... close enough.

By Hafgrim on 7/6/2011 3:38:55 AM , Rating: 2
Its about time we sent a CAR sized rover to research with that has large instruments instead of tiny RC toys.

Nothing like having a car sized backhoe style scooper instead of a spoon to dig with... Rover Curiosity is nice and big.


Getting around
By Paj on 7/6/2011 7:12:42 AM , Rating: 2
If all landing sites are within a 15 mile area (which seems to be the case based on how the article is worded), would it not be possible to explore them all? The thing has 4kg of plutonium on board so power won't be a problem, even if c lag is.

9 Months?
By CrazyBernie on 7/6/2011 9:37:14 AM , Rating: 2
Can we get some better propulsion, please?

By gagafafa on 7/5/2011 9:15:10 PM , Rating: 1

I tide fashion Good-looking, not expensive Free transport

By Jmcjack on 7/5/11, Rating: -1
RE: Grammar
By theapparition on 7/5/2011 2:18:35 PM , Rating: 2
You want someone named Grammar to check the grammar?

If you going to complain about something as stupid as grammar, at least know how to punctuate.

Can I has Editor?
By lightfoot on 7/5/11, Rating: -1
RE: Can I has Editor?
By GuinnessKMF on 7/5/11, Rating: 0
"Spreading the rumors, it's very easy because the people who write about Apple want that story, and you can claim its credible because you spoke to someone at Apple." -- Investment guru Jim Cramer

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