May 27th, 2011
Dr. Michael Meyer, Mars Exploration Program Lead Scientist
Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate
300 E Street SW
Washington, DC 20546
Dr. John Grotzinger
Mars Science Laboratory Mission
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109
Dear Michael and John:
This letter summarizes the outcomes and findings of the fifth and final Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Landing Site Workshop held May 16-18, 201, in Monrovia, CA, on. The meeting was well attended on all three days, with well over 150 participants from the science community and the MSL science teams. The workshop objective was focused on discussion of unresolved scientific uncertainties for the four remaining candidate landing sites, including those identified at the last (4th) MSL Landing Site Workshop. The product of the workshop was a series of summary statements or “quad charts” that highlight their science merits, deficiencies, and uncertainties as measured against major science objectives of the MSL mission.
Workshop presentations were grouped into an introductory session followed by individual sessions for each of the four remaining sites. There was also discussion of possible planetary protection issues related to the candidate sites, and a closing session related to ongoing characterization of the candidate sites with respect to landing hazard safety and rover terrain traversability. Time was provided for discussion at the end of each session and on the final day of the workshop which focused on completion of the quad charts. All discussion sessions were lively, and we thank all of the participants for their effort in preparing for the workshop. Supporting materials and all presentations were posted in real time at http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/landingsites/. These workshop presentations provided an additional means for participants to review each site and prepare for discussion sessions.
The four remaining candidate landing sites include in order of presentation: Mawrth Vallis (24°N, 341°E), Gale Crater (4.5S, 137.4E), Eberswalde crater (23.9°S, 327°E), and Holden crater (26°S, 325°E). All four sites possess high scientific merit and were deemed to be safe for landing and trafficable for the rover by the MSL project. The extremely high science merit of each of the sites was best expressed by the unanimous agreement from workshop participants that all four sites still represent acceptable science targets for exploration by MSL.
A lunch meeting of the Landing Site Steering Committee was held on the final day of the workshop and yielded broad support for the ongoing process for selecting the MSL landing site. In addition, the luncheon was used to kick off the process of developing summary statements for the sites, in the form of quad charts, as a means of focusing the afternoon’s workshop discussions.
The quad charts that emerged from the workshop follow (below) in alphabetical order and represent the consensus of workshop participants on the scientific merits, shortcomings, and uncertainties of the four sites. It is important to note that while the statements in the charts represent consensus, they do not represent a unanimous opinion of the community (or the Steering Committee) in a few instances. The quad charts comprise input to the MSL Project as they formulate a recommendation on which landing site might be selected by the NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. It is worth stating again that there is very strong advocacy for each site.
The quad charts will be posted at the MSL landing site websites and the science community is encouraged to review and comment, thereby allowing for additions and revisions over the coming weeks. Any substantive suggestions from the community will be passed along to the MSL Project for consideration.
We appreciate the opportunity for the science community to provide input to the MSL landing site selection process. We hope that NASA will continue to solicit this input for potential future landing sites in order to achieve the most comprehensive evaluation of their relative merits.
Co-Chairs, MSL Landing Site Steering Committee
On behalf of the MSL Landing Site Steering Committee