Mars is a big planet, full of potential landing sites for human colonists. But, it’s also not a very friendly place, with dust storms and a harsh atmosphere. NASA has scheduled a workshop to brainstorm where to land on Mars for later this year, as Sean O’Kane reports for The Verge.
Prior to the landing of Curiosity in 2013 and other Mars rovers the same question has come up: Where do scientists land this fancy robot that we built to explore this distant and inhospitable planet? That choice is important, because often in the fight between a robot and the surface of Mars, it’s the Martian rocks that win. Humans have sent 18 robots to Mars, and only eight have landed safely.
Last month, the space agency put out a call to both scientists and the public for landing site ideas for a potential human mission to Mars. On October, NASA will hold a workshop on the possible landing sites, and in the meantime, they're asking scientists and the community to start thinking up proposals for what they're calling the "exploration zone."
But really, truly having to worry about where to land humans on Mars may be a long way off. Right now, NASA plans to send humans to an asteroid in 2025, then Mars in the early 2030s. Another rover will head to Mars in 2020, possibly bringing back rocks and no doubt providing further insight on the Red Planet’s surface. Ideally, if a human mission reached mars, a robotic rover would land first to assess planetary conditions.
And before humans can land on Mars they’ll need to come up with a way to protect astronauts from the dangerous radiation associated with long-distance space travel. Then there’s the small matter of building the spacecraft that could get them there. NASA testing their craft, as O’Kane also notes, and still building the rocket that would launch it. Figuring all of this out might take awhile.