Scientists gather to decide next Mars rover’s landing spot

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NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is getting the rockstar treatment.Hundreds of scientists, astronomers and Mars enthusiasts have gathered in California to battle over the most optimal location for NASA’s next red planet rover to land, which experts said will “set the stage” for the next decade of exploration.

The mission will not only search for once-habitable terrain and signs of past life, but it could also be the first step in bringing soil and rock samples back to Earth. The ambitious goal makes choosing the most scientifically-valuable landing spot all the more crucial, scientists said.

“It allows the entire science community to have a discussion about the best place to go and what important scientific questions can be addressed at that site,” Dr. Matt Golombek, a Mars exploration program landing site scientist, told the Post. “In some way, it’s the most detailed discussion of things you really believe.”

The three-day conference, which began on Wednesday in Glendale, is the fourth and final in a series of debates and deliberations that began in 2014. Scientists from dozens of areas of study convened to fight on behalf of what they consider the most optimal spot.

“The Mars 2020 landing site could set the stage for Mars exploration for the next decade,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement. “Once returned to Earth, these samples will likely become the most analyzed soil samples in history.”

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