NASA’s $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is slated to launch in late November, and will drop a car-size rover named Curiosity at the Gale crater.
“We are going to the mountain at Gale crater,” Michael Watkins, project engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., revealed in a press conference today (July 22). “It exhibits three different kinds of environmental settings, perhaps the trilogy of Mars history. It’s a worthy goal, a worthy challenge for such a capable rover.”
Gale crater is about 96 miles (154 kilometers) wide and has a mountain at its center that rises higher, from the crater floor up, than Mount Rainer near Seattle. The crater, which is named after Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale, is so large that the U.S. states of Connecticut and Rhode Island could fit inside it, NASA officials said. [Video: Fly Over Gale Crater on Mars]
“Mars is firmly in our sights,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “Curiosity not only will return a wealth of important science data, but it will serve as a precursor mission for human exploration to the Red Planet.”