At Pasadena, the 2nd MSL landing site workshop kick off took place yesterday, in the meawhile, here I am, at Sintra, in a valley where the fog coming from the sea doesn’t allow to see my hand in front of my nose...
You might have thought that what happens at Pasadena stays at Pasadena but I had the chance of counting with the precious and very appreciated help from a researcher present at the meeting that will make possible to spacEurope readers get informed about what is going on.
Our correspondent for the workshop gives us his report from the first day of the meeting:
The first bit of news is that presentations from the meeting should be posted before today's session at the marsoweb website; my guess is it will be linked from http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/landingsites/index.html based on what was said in the discussion period at the end of the day.
The main topics of discussion for the morning were on the datasets and the inferences that can lead from these data. The MSL project people gave an update on the mission. The major bad news was that the ability to operate the mission at low temperatures, because of the need to maintain lubricated actuators; the original mission plan had included "dry" lubrication that unfortunately failed in mission testing scenarios only 20% into a nominal mission period.
So this initial plan was scrapped and MER-heritage wet lubrication is being used.
The upshot of this is that sites south of 15 or so degrees and north of30 degrees are going to be in some trouble from an operational perspective and so might be unfavored for site selection.
In terms of the evaluation criteria, there was a discussion of how sols per sample analysis is one useful way of considering the viability of sciencec at a site. This favors sites that have less driving before the primary mission science versus those that require more.
A few comments of note from specific people: Dawn Sumner stated rather emphatically that hematite/sulfate environments have poor biological preservation potential (especially with regard to organics). Conversely, smectites are excellent for preserving organics (like are abundant in the Nili Crater and Ritchey Crater sites and also found in the other three sites that were discussed today); tomorrow and the next day there will be a number of non-phyllosilicate sites where I hope she emphasizes this point.
John Grotzinger made a few rather interesting points that he thought that
> Distal alluvial vs. lacustrine hard to distinguish in many sites
> Grain size in alluvial fans or deltas might be a severe problem for preserving habitability
In terms of the evaluations of yesterday's sites, Eberswalde and Holden came out on top (beating Nili/Jezero crater by a single yellow vs green on preservation of biosignatures).
Ritchey and Gale crater were rated lower (all yellows).
It is worth noting that Eberswalde and Holden may be faced with a challenge regarding the thermal issue discussed earlier; and from my perspective, it seems likely that Eberswalde will eventually get eliminated on the inability to place a viable ellipse inside the crater.
Another special update is expected as discussions continue tomorrow.