National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

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Mars rover: NASA

The Times of India, July 24, 2011

Mars rover to land inside huge crater

Los Angeles: NASA’s next Mars rover will land at the foot of a towering mountain inside a 96-mile-wide crater to search for evidence that the region once had conditions capable of supporting microbial life, project officials announced.

Gale Crater was chosen as the target for the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission after an extensive review of dozens of potential sites, officials said in webcast from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

The rover, nicknamed Curiosity, is expected to be launched this year and to land on Mars in August 2012. It’s far bigger than the three rovers NASA has previously sent to the red planet in search of geologic evidence that the frigid, dusty planet was once warmer and wet, with conditions that could potentially have supported a hardy form of life.

The three-mile-high mountain in Gale Crater is layered and scientists believe it is the remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. The site also has a huge cut like Grand Canyon that appears to have been made by flowing water.

Mission planners intend to send the instrument-laden Curiosity up the lower flanks of the mountain to examine the layers.

Past studies from orbiting spacecraft show the mineral signatures of clays and sulfate salts, which form in the presence of water, concentrated in older layers near the bottom of the mountain. AP

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