NASA chooses next Mars rover target

July 22, 2011 at 2:49 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 22 (UPI) -- NASA says it made a final decision on the landing location for its next Mars rover, selecting the Gale Crater for the August 2012 touchdown on the red planet.

The 96-mile-wide crater is located in the Elysium Planitia, the second largest volcanic region on Mars, near the planet's equator, reported Friday.

The large crater has a number of interesting geologic features that made it a leading choice as a landing site for the Curiosity rover, which is set to launch later this year, NASA said.

"The site offers a visually dramatic landscape and also great potential for significant science findings," said Jim Green, director for the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Because Gale is in a low-elevation location, if there was water on the surface of Mars in the past it likely ran downhill into the crater, scientists say.

That could have made it a favorable spot for microbial life on Mars, they say.

"We believe that at Gale Crater we have located that boundary where life may have sprung up and where it may have been extinguished," Brown University planetary geologist John "Jack" Mustard said. "That's why we're going there."

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