NASA is ready to begin talking about landing locations for its manned mission to Mars and will seek input on suitable sites during a workshop in Houston this October.
The agency hopes to slim down a list of potential ROIs (Regions of Interest) and EZs (Exploration Zones) then zero in on a location from that short list, doing so in a "multi-year process."
For this mission, an EZ is a collection of ROIs "that are located within approximately 100 kilometers of a centralized landing site," stated NASA in a letter announcing the conference. "ROIs are areas that are relevant for scientific investigation and/or development/maturation of capabilities and resources necessary for a sustainable human presence."
The "First Landing Site/Exploration Zone Workshop for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars" will be held at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, starting from Oct. 27 through 30.
In a followup to this latest announcement, NASA will explain how the public can submit suggestions for potential ROIs and EZs. For now, it has outlined the process that a search for a landing zone entails:
(a) Identifying locations that would maximize the potential science return from future human exploration missions;
(b) Identifying locations with the potential for resources required to support humans;
(c) Developing concepts and engineering systems needed by future human crews to conduct operations within an EZ; and
(d) Identifying key characteristics of the proposed candidate EZs that cannot be evaluated using existing data sets, thus helping to define precursor measurements needed in advance of human missions.
"This is going to be a hot debate," Jim Green, who helms the Planetary Science Division of NASA, said at a conference on June 25.
The discussion "will start exactly the conversation we need to be able to architect what a station on Mars would look like, and how [it] would operate," stated Green. "This, I think, is an enormous step in defining how we're going to operate on Mars, and what do we need to take with us, because we will have a much better idea of what's there."