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Goals: Mission Design

Goal 3:   Characterize the Geology of Mars
[more on Goal  3 for the entire Mars Exploration Program]

This image shows a round crater exposing horizontal layers in its walls. Around it is an undulating brown surface. In both the foreground, in the lower right corner of the image, and in the backround, forming the horizon, are cliffs exposing horizontal layers of rock. The sky is a typical shade of martian peachy pink. The rovers are equipped with some of the tools a geologist would carry into the field, as well as the scientific instruments a geologist would use in a lab to study collected samples. Detailed mineralogical study of rock samples will reveal their content and the conditions in which they formed. A tool to scrape away weathered surfaces of rocks will expose fresh surfaces for close-up study.

Of particular interest to the rover science team are minerals containing the element iron, which interacts strongly with liquid water. Did the reddish Martian soil form billions of years ago when the planet may have been wetter and warmer, or is the rusty soil simply the result of ongoing interaction of an oxidizing atmosphere with the surface rocks? Other searches for geological evidence of water will be for clays, carbonates, salts and other minerals that formed in the presence of water.

The local measurements made by the rovers at two landing sites will be used to calibrate similar measurements made from orbit, so that we can extend what we learn to larger regions of Mars.

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