Gale Crater: Future Home of Mars Rover Curiosity
This view of Gale is a mosaic of observations made in the visible-light portion of the spectrum by the Thermal Emission Imaging System camera on NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's next Mars rover will land at the foot of a layered mountain inside the planet’s Gale Crater.

The car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, or Curiosity, is scheduled to launch late this year and land in August 2012. The target crater spans 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a mountain rising higher from the crater floor than Mount Rainier rises above Seattle. Gale is about the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. Layering in the mound suggests it is the surviving remnant of an extensive sequence of deposits. The crater is named for Australian astronomer Walter F. Gale.

"Mars is firmly in our sights," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "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."

During a prime mission lasting one Martian year -- nearly two Earth years -- researchers will use the rover's tools to study whether the landing region had favorable environmental conditions for supporting microbial life and for preserving clues about whether life ever existed.

"Scientists identified Gale as their top choice to pursue the ambitious goals of this new rover mission," said Jim Green, director for the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The site offers a visually dramatic landscape and also great potential for significant science findings."

In 2006, more than 100 scientists began to consider about 30 potential landing sites during worldwide workshops. Four candidates were selected in 2008. An abundance of targeted images enabled thorough analysis of the safety concerns and scientific attractions of each site. A team of senior NASA science officials then conducted a detailed review and unanimously agreed to move forward with the MSL Science Team's recommendation. The team is comprised of a host of principal and co-investigators on the project.

Curiosity is about twice as long and more than five times as heavy as any previous Mars rover. Its 10 science instruments include two for ingesting and analyzing samples of powdered rock that the rover's robotic arm collects. A radioisotope power source will provide heat and electric power to the rover. A rocket-powered sky crane suspending Curiosity on tethers will lower the rover directly to the Martian surface.

The portion of the crater where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments. The layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and sulfates, both known to form in water.

"One fascination with Gale is that it's a huge crater sitting in a very low-elevation position on Mars, and we all know that water runs downhill," said John Grotzinger, the mission's project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. "In terms of the total vertical profile exposed and the low elevation, Gale offers attractions similar to Mars' famous Valles Marineris, the largest canyon in the solar system."

Curiosity will go beyond the "follow-the-water" strategy of recent Mars exploration. The rover's science payload can identify other ingredients of life, such as the carbon-based building blocks of biology called organic compounds. Long-term preservation of organic compounds requires special conditions. Certain minerals, including some Curiosity may find in the clay and sulfate-rich layers near the bottom of Gale's mountain, are good at latching onto organic compounds and protecting them from oxidation.

"Gale gives us attractive possibilities for finding organics, but that is still a long shot," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program at agency headquarters. "What adds to Gale's appeal is that, organics or not, the site holds a diversity of features and layers for investigating changing environmental conditions, some of which could inform a broader understanding of habitability on ancient Mars."

The rover and other spacecraft components are being assembled and are undergoing final testing. The mission is targeted to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of Caltech.

To view the landing site and for more information about the mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.

  • NASA has selected Gale crater as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    NASA has selected Gale crater as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. The mission's rover will be placed on the ground in a northern portion of the crater in August 2012. This view of Gale is a mosaic of observations made in the visible-light portion of the spectrum by the Thermal Emission Imaging System camera on NASA's ... more

  • NASA has selected Gale crater as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    NASA has selected Gale crater as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. The mission's rover will be placed on the ground in a northern portion of the crater in August 2012. This view of Gale is a mosaic of observations made in the visible-light portion of the spectrum by the Thermal Emission Imaging System camera on NASA's ... more

  • This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater.

    This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater.

    NASA has selected Gale as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. The mission's rover will be placed on the ground in a northern portion of Gale crater in August 2012.

    ... more
  • This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater.

    This computer-generated view based on multiple orbital observations shows Mars' Gale crater as if seen from an aircraft northwest of the crater.

    NASA has selected Gale as the landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. The mission's rover will be placed on the ground in a northern portion of Gale crater in August 2012.

    ... more
  • This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light.

    This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning light.

    Gale Crater looms in the distance, distinguished from adjacent craters by its central mountain of strata. Gale Crater straddles the dichotomy boundary of Mars, which sepa... more

  • This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate.

    This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The landing site is in the smooth area in front of the mound (marked by a yellow ellipse, which is 12.4 miles [20 kilometers] by 15.5 miles [25 kilometers]).

    Gale crater is 96 ... more

  • This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate.

    This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The landing site is in the smooth area in front of the mound (marked by a yellow ellipse, which is 12.4 miles [20 kilometers] by 15.5 miles [25 kilometers]).

    Gale crater is 96 ... more

  • This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The mission's selected landing site is just north of the mound inside the crater.

    This oblique, southward-looking view of Gale crater shows the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The mission's selected landing site is just north of the mound inside the crater.

    Gale crater is 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a layered mountain rising about 3 miles (5 kilomete... more

  • This oblique view of Gale Crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The landing site is in the smooth area in front of the mound.

    This oblique view of Gale Crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The landing site is in the smooth area in front of the mound.

    Gale Crater is 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a layered mountain rising about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crate... more

  • This oblique view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate.

    This oblique view of Gale crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The landing site is in the smooth area in front of the mound.

    Gale crater is 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter and holds a layered mountain rising about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crat... more

  • This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater on Mars shows an area of top scientific interest for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater on Mars shows an area of top scientific interest for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    This area is at the base of the mound, just beyond a dark dune field. Here, orbiting instruments have detected signatures of both clay minerals and sulfate salts (see labels on image). Scientis... more

  • This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater on Mars shows an area of top scientific interest for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater on Mars shows an area of top scientific interest for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    This area is at the base of the mound, just beyond a dark dune field. Here, orbiting instruments have detected signatures of both clay minerals and sulfate salts. Scientists studying Mars have ... more

  • This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater shows layers of rock that preserve a record of environments on Mars.

    This oblique view of the lower mound in Gale crater shows layers of rock that preserve a record of environments on Mars. Here, orbiting instruments have detected signatures of both clay minerals and sulfate salts, with more clay minerals apparent in the foreground of this image and fewer in higher layers. This change in mineralogy may reflect... more

  • This oblique view of the mound in Gale Crater shows several different rock types of interest to the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    This oblique view of the mound in Gale Crater shows several different rock types of interest to the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    The lower part of the mound consists of layers of rock in which orbiting instruments have detected the signatures of clay minerals and sulfate salts. Mars scientists have several important hypotheses ab... more

  • This oblique view of the mound in Gale crater shows several different rock types of interest to the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    This oblique view of the mound in Gale crater shows several different rock types of interest to the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    The lower part of the mound consists of layers of rock in which orbiting instruments have detected the signatures of clay minerals and sulfate salts. Mars scientists have several important hypotheses ab... more

  • This map of Mars shows all of the more than 60 landing sites proposed for the Mars Science Laboratory (red dots) and the four final candidate sites (blue dots).

    This map of Mars shows all of the more than 60 landing sites proposed for the Mars Science Laboratory (red dots) and the four final candidate sites (blue dots). Discussion by more than 150 scientists over more than five years led to the selection of the four final candidate sites: Eberswalde crater, Gale crater, Holden crater, and Mawrth Vall... more

  • An area inside Eberswalde crater was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    An area inside Eberswalde crater was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. If Eberswalde had been selected, rather than Gale crater, the mission's rover, Curiosity, would have been sent to land on the crater floor and probe an ancient river bed, and possible ancient lake bed, on the way to a large delta on ... more

  • An area inside Gale crater was selected as the landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    An area inside Gale crater was selected as the landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. The landing of the mission's rover, Curiosity, will occur on an alluvial fan near the northern wall of the crater, and the rover will traverse to a thick stack of layered rocks to the south.

    The left panel shows the regional cont... more

  • An area inside Holden crater was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    An area inside Holden crater was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. If Holden had been selected, rather than Gale crater, the mission's rover, Curiosity, would have been sent to land on the broad alluvial fans flanking the western wall of the crater. The rover would have traversed down to study underlying... more

  • Mawrth Vallis was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission.

    Mawrth Vallis was considered as a landing site for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. If it had been selected, rather than Gale crater, the mission’s rover would have been sent to land in the Mawrth valley directly on a layered sequence of clay-bearing rocks that extend across the surface of the region.

    The left panel shows the... more

  • This drawing of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity, indicates the location of science instruments and some other tools on the car-size rover.

    This drawing of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity, indicates the location of science instruments and some other tools on the car-size rover.

    Clockwise from upper left:

    • Mastcam is the Mast Camera instrument.

    • ChemCam is the Chemistry and Camera instrument.

    • RAD is the Radi... more
  • The area in and near the landing site selected for landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory offers a diversity of possible targets for examination by the mission's rover, Curiosity.

    The area in and near the landing site selected for landing of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory offers a diversity of possible targets for examination by the mission's rover, Curiosity.

    For scale, the landing target ellipse indicated on this image is 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) by 15.5 miles (25 kilometers).

    The Mars Science Lab... more

  • The lower portion of a mountain inside Gale crater on Mars contains layers that may be examined by NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.

    The lower portion of a mountain inside Gale crater on Mars contains layers that may be examined by NASA's Mars Science Laboratory. A landing site in Gale, close to the foot of the mountain, has been selected for the mission. The mission will launch during the period Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011 and land the rover Curiosity on Mars in August 2012.... more

  • One type of feature of scientific interest on the mountain inside Gale crater is exposure of cemented fractures, evidence that groundwater once reached to at least that height of the mountain.

    One type of feature of scientific interest on the mountain inside Gale crater is exposure of cemented fractures, evidence that groundwater once reached to at least that height of the mountain.

    This image of that part of the mountain, taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,... more

  • Spacecraft specialists test the descent stage and rover of the Mars Science Laboratory in this scene from the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    Spacecraft specialists test the descent stage and rover of the Mars Science Laboratory in this scene from the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    These components were shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in June 2011, for final preparation for launch. The mission will launch d... more

  • This stereoscopic anaglyph image was created from a left and right stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.

    This stereoscopic anaglyph image was created from a left and right stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity. The scene appears three dimensional when viewed through red-blue glasses with the red lens on the left.

    The image was taken May 26, 2011, in Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Pr... more

  • This is the left-eye member of a stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.

    This is the left-eye member of a stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.

    The image was taken May 26, 2011, in Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The rover was shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on June 22, 2011. The mission is sched... more

  • This is the right-eye member of a stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.

    This is the right-eye member of a stereo pair of images of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, Curiosity.

    The image was taken May 26, 2011, in Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The rover was shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on June 22, 2011. The mission is sche... more

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Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

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