The main question facing NASA scientists for decades has been tackled by a community of scientists from around the world after attending a summit titled “First Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars,” which held between October 27-30 at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.
The question according to Space.com is: where will the first astronauts to Mars set foot or set up the first human outpost on the Red Planet?
About 175 people world attended the conference in Houston and about 280 others connected via the internet to the event. NASA scientists plan to land on Mars two decades from now to allow humans explore the planet.
James Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. disclosed that the conference turned out great, and various inputs from various participants helped to determine where first human explorers would land, work, and carry on scientific work on Mars.
"It is indeed our intent to stay the course. It is indeed our attempt to have humans on Mars," Green said. "We have really turned the corner. It's now time for us to get busy and make that vision happen. But in reality, to make it real, we need real locations."
Attendees eventually zeroed down on 50 possible landing sites where humans could set foot on Mars, and the locations are all within 50 degrees latitude north or south of the Martian equator.
But there are many NASA guidelines that must be met by any potential sites. Each potential outpost must have exploration zone that is 60 miles or 100 kilometers wide every side. The touchdown zone must also allow several landings of 4-6 crewed astronauts who will be able to work on the expedition lasting about 500 Martian days.
The potential sites must also be perfectly safe for landing, and for exploration activities to collect scientific information that may pertain to searching for life out there among other things. There must also be access local resources which can sustain human life like water among others.
NASA scientists have started to analyze each of the 50 potential landing sites, but Rich Zurek, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, noted that as far as he is concerned, the actual site to host humans as a set-up outpost may not have been identified.
To this extent, Zurek and a NASA team are examining a 2020 Mars orbiter that would carry several instruments like powerful radar technology to identify underground pockets of ice in order to determine the suitability of any potential outpost.
"This meeting is a big step, a new hope," said Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist with the Mars Institute and the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California. "I want to go to every site that's been presented. Mars is a complicated planet. It has the land area of all the continents of the Earth put together…and we know so little about what we would find."
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Lee is also director of the NASA Haughton-Mars Project at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.