NASA is scrambling to figure out where to land astronauts on the Red Planet before it's too late.
We are just a scant couple of decades away from the first manned mission to Mars in the mid to late 2030s, and it’s now time for NASA to start thinking about where the mission should begin on the surface of the Red Planet — that’s why the agency is kicking off some discussions in Houston in a few months.
It may seem like this mission is far away, but it’s actually the right time for NASA to start planning on where astronauts should land on the surface of Mars, which is why there will be a workshop in October that will create some fierce debate between scientists on where operations should take place, according to a Discovery News report.
This meeting will last about four days and will focus on identifying exploration zones that are 62 miles (100 kilometers) in size and would ideally have two attributes: have natural resources like water ice and be scientifically interesting.
And this workshop will simply mark the start of a years-long effort to identify promising exploration zones. It will require the use of assets currently in orbit around Mars, including the Mars Odyssey spacecraft which reached the Red Planet in 2001 and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which has been circling the planet since 2006. These spacecraft are capable of taking high-resolution images and can therefore assist NASA with conducting more research on a possible exploration zone.
However, time is not on their side. These orbiters won’t last forever, so it’s important to start using them now rather than wait until shortly before the mission launches. There will be quite a bit of work to do in this regard, as the MRO has so far only captured high-resolution images of about 3 percent of the surface of Mars. High-res images will allow mankind to know what to expect once it reaches this exploration zone, and to determine if it is even a proper candidate to begin with.