After 3 days of intense debate, a nonbinding vote by planetary scientists meeting in Glendale, California, resulted in a virtual tie between several candidate landing sites for NASA’s next $2.5 billion Mars rover, due for launch in 2020.
The straw poll is the culmination of years of scientific and engineering analysis of three NASA-approved sites: Jezero, a fossilized delta that spills into an impact crater; Northeast Syrtis, a stretch of ancient crust that may have been created by underground mineral springs; and Columbia Hills, a potential former hot springs previously visited by the Spirit rover. Earlier this year, the team added to the mix a fourth site, nearly identical in composition to Northeast Syrtis, called Midway, with the potential that a mission could visit Jezero and then Midway, or vice versa.
All four sites were evaluated both for their suitability as the primary landing site and as an area for continued exploration following the rover’s first couple of years. In turn, each site was rated for the value of the science the rover could conduct itself, with its fleet of instruments, and the value of the samples that it will drill for return to Earth.