That's right, folks! Among the eight semi-finalists for the planned 2020 Mars rover landing site is a location suggested by 16-year-old Alex Longo
(Raleigh, N.C.). That, for itself, is quite impressive and certainly newsworthy, but the reason why I decided to post about this is that there might
be an intriguing and rather unexpected element to this story (more about that further down).
Alex Longo already submitted his scientific
proposal back in 2014 and NASA considered it to be serious enough to invite him to the official
landing site selection meetings. His proposal suggests to land in one of two landing ellipses within GUSEV Crater.
Alex Longo (Image Credit: NASA)
Now wait a minute, most on here who have been following previous rover missions on Mars will probably experience a Déjà-Vu when
reading this (I certainly did). This proposal would mean that we'll return to a place we've already explored:
touched down in Gusev in January 2004 and roamed the surface of Mars for 1892
days until she got stuck in a sand trap.
The mission resulted in lots of data incl. various images showing many interesting features (some of which were suggestive of past life on Mars).
However, scientists always maintained that the evidence is inconclusive, so why return? Why not land in a different area? Does the recent
consideration of the landing site indicate that NASA is in fact certain
that they could find signs of life there with a better equipped
Now, let's remember what the main objectives of the next Mars rover mission are supposed to be:
Mars 2020 Mission Overview
Looking for Habitability: Identify past environments capable of supporting microbial life
Seeking Biosignatures: Seek signs of possible past microbial life in those habitable environments, particularly in special rocks known to
preserve signs of life over time
We of course know that, compared to Curiosity, this next rover will have a mission dedicated to identifying bio-signatures incl. finding any signs of
life that may be encountered on its path (needless to say that it will also be equipped accordingly in terms of scientific instruments incl. a sample
Did we already find signs of life, just waiting for final confirmation?
When looking at the proposal that Alex Longo presented together with S. Ruff and J. Rice, it's interesting to see their comparison of Gusev crater
with a certain region of the Atacama desert in Chile called El Tatio (Hot Spring/Geyser System). This area is also known for displaying fossilized
remains resulting from microbial silica interactions in the past. Below you will find three interesting slides from the
Slide, Page 13 (left: Mars, right: Earth):
Slide, Page 15 (left: Mars, right: Earth):
Slide, Page 18 (left, right: Mars, bottom: Earth):
The bottomline of all this is:
Why should we return to that place which had already been explored by Spirit in extreme detail in previous years?
Does the fact that NASA
considers this to be a realistic candidate landing site suggest that most NASA scientists agree that these fossilized features represent signs of past
life on Mars? Did they already know all along that a second genesis took place on Mars? This does raise certain questions, in my honest opinion ...
And finally: I don't think NASA is pulling off a promotional stunt by allowing this proposal into the final round just to make space exploration more
interesting for youth and aspiring engineers. Now, assuming that the data and scientific evidence is valid, I wonder why we consider to return to that
place? Thanks for reading up to here and I look forward to your thoughts on this!
SOURCES AND LINKS:
1. A Teen Might Pick The Landing Site For
NASA's Next Mars Rover (NPR)
2. NASA Landing Site Presentation (S. Ruff, J. Rice, and
3. Second NASA Mars 2020 Landing Site Workshop
4. More information about Spirit (rover)
5. Mars 2020 rover mission overview
6. 2020 Rover Landing Site Candidates
4-9-2016 by jeep3r because: formatting and text