Mars: Analysis

Nature 436, 44-48 (7 July 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03600

Assessment of Mars Exploration Rover landing site predictions

M. P. Golombek1, R. E. Arvidson2, J. F. Bell, III3, P. R. Christensen4, J. A. Crisp1, L. S. Crumpler5, B. L. Ehlmann6, R. L. Fergason4, J. A. Grant7, R. Greeley4, A. F. C. Haldemann1, D. M. Kass1, T. J. Parker1, J. T. Schofield1, S. W. Squyres3 & R. W. Zurek1

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Comprehensive analyses of remote sensing data during the three-year effort to select the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites at Gusev crater and at Meridiani Planum correctly predicted the atmospheric density profile during entry and descent and the safe and trafficable surfaces explored by the two rovers. The Gusev crater site was correctly predicted to be a low-relief surface that was less rocky than the Viking landing sites but comparably dusty. A dark, low-albedo, flat plain composed of basaltic sand and haematite with very few rocks was expected and found at Meridiani Planum. These results argue that future efforts to select safe landing sites based on existing and acquired remote sensing data will be successful. In contrast, geological interpretations of the sites based on remote sensing data were less certain and less successful, which emphasizes the inherent ambiguities in understanding surface geology from remotely sensed data and the uncertainty in predicting exactly what materials will be available for study at a landing site.

  1. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91109, USA
  2. Washington University, St Louis, Missouri 63130, USA
  3. Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA;
  4. Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA
  5. New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87104, USA
  6. Oxford University, OX1 3PG, UK;
  7. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC 20560, USA

Correspondence to: M. P. Golombek1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.P.G. (Email: mgolombek@jpl.nasa.gov).

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