Twenty years ahead of the mission to send astronauts to Mars, NASA has already begun its research on where to land the astronauts when they arrive on the Red Planet.NASA plans to launch the first manned Mars mission in the mid or late 2030’s, but it has already started the steps by announcing that it is holding a workshop this October to kick off discussions about possible landing sites on Mars.
In the four-day long meeting, researchers will propose 62-mile-wide (100 kilometers) “exploration zones” that they believe would be scientifically interesting and possess enough resources, such as subsurface water ice, to support human explorers, reported Space.com.
“This is going to be a hot debate,” Jim Green, head of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told reporters during a teleconference today (June 25).
In the October meeting researchers are hopeful that they will be able to construct and architect a plan of what a station on Mars would like and how would they operate it.
Data from NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which began circling the Red Planet in 2001 and 2006, will be gathered over the next few years to study the most promising explorations zones in depth.
The two venerable orbiters won’t last forever, so it’s important to get the ball rolling on the site-selection process now, Green said.
“Humans are going to need high-resolution over their whole exploration zone,” Green said, noting that MRO has captured high-res images of just 3 percent of the Martian surface to date. “Therefore, we need to know where they’re going. It’s really that simple.”
The potential exploration zone’s mineralogy will also be very important; as it will provide clues about what resources the particular site may harbor.
“This, I think, is an enormous step in defining how we’re going to operate on Mars, and what do we need to take with us, because we will have a much better idea of what’s there,” he said.
The first Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars will take place at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston from Oct. 27 through Oct. 30.