Selection of the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites



[1] The selection of Meridiani Planum and Gusev crater as the Mars Exploration Rover landing sites took over 2 years, involved broad participation of the science community via four open workshops, and narrowed an initial ∼155 potential sites (80–300 × 30 km) to four finalists based on science and safety. Engineering constraints important to the selection included (1) latitude (10°N–15°S) for maximum solar power, (2) elevation (less than −1.3 km) for sufficient atmosphere to slow the lander, (3) low horizontal winds, shear, and turbulence in the last few kilometers to minimize horizontal velocity, (4) low 10-m-scale slopes to reduce airbag spin-up and bounce, (5) moderate rock abundance to reduce abrasion or strokeout of the airbags, and (6) a radar-reflective, load-bearing, and trafficable surface safe for landing and roving that is not dominated by fine-grained dust. The evaluation of sites utilized existing as well as targeted orbital information acquired from the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey. Three of the final four landing sites show strong evidence for surface processes involving water and appear capable of addressing the science objectives of the missions, which are to determine the aqueous, climatic, and geologic history of sites on Mars where conditions may have been favorable to the preservation of evidence of possible prebiotic or biotic processes. The evaluation of science criteria placed Meridiani and Gusev as the highest-priority sites. The evaluation of the three most critical safety criteria (10-m-scale slopes, rocks, and winds) and landing simulation results indicated that Meridiani and Elysium Planitia are the safest sites, followed by Gusev and Isidis Planitia.