Ancient Mars crater chosen as landing site for 2020 space rover

"Getting samples from this unique area will revolutionise how we think about Mars and its ability to harbour life", added Mr Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency's science mission directorate.

NASA has picked an ancient river delta as the landing site for its uncrewed Mars 2020 rover, to hunt for evidence of past life on Earth's neighboring planet, officials said Monday.

"The Mars community has long coveted the scientific value of sites such as Jezero Crater, and a previous mission contemplated going there, but the challenges with safely landing were considered prohibitive", said Ken Farley.

NASA has been flying past, orbiting, landing and roving over Mars since 1965.

The Rover mission is set to launch in July 2020 from Cape Canaveral.

Scientists expect Mars 2020 to yield at least five different types of rock, including the kinds of clays and carbonates that are most likely to preserve chemical biosignatures. Like Curiosity, Mars 2020 would be lowered to the surface from a rocket-powered "Sky Crane" platform, which NASA says is the safest way to land a 1-ton payload. The landing is scheduled to take place at 11pm (Doha time).

As it once hosted an ancient lake-delta system, NASA hopes Jezero also contains a variety of minerals, which would hugely help discover more about the red planet. The mission aims to study the interior of Mars by drilling down and taking samples of the rock and soil deep beneath the surface.

Image: NASA has announced the rover will land in the Jezero Crater. "But what was once out of reach is now conceivable, thanks to the 2020 engineering team and advances in Mars entry, descent and landing technologies", he said.

"Nothing has been more hard in robotic planetary exploration than landing on Mars", said Zurbuchen.

InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The landing kicks off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars' deep interior, according to NASA's website.

A pair of tiny experimental satellites trailing NASA's InSight spacecraft all the way to Mars face their biggest test yet.


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