The focus of space scientists, right now, is on the 2020 Mars mission. A robotic explorer of NASA will undertake the work for collecting rock samples from the Red Planet in order to ascertain the presence of alien microbes. The space agency has funds to the extent of $2.5 billion and the target date is by the end of the decade.

Express UK reports that hundreds of NASA scientists and space exploration enthusiasts brainstormed for three days to arrive at a decision. Finally, they have settled on four landing sites on Mars. As Thomas Zurbuchen, an official of NASA has said, “choosing the right landing spot will shape the future of NASA’s research.” The Mars mission will get a boost once the rover extracts and analyses the rock samples.

Four probable landing sites on Mars

Space scientists at NASA have decided on four potential landing spots for the next mission to the Red Planet. These are the Jezero Crater, Northeast Syrtis, Columbia Hills and Midway. Columbia Hills was an earlier spot selected in 2004 for Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. It derives its name from the unsuccessful attempt in 2003 associated with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

The other three likely landing spots are Jezero, Northeast Syrtis and Midway. The first two secured an equal number of votes while Midway, a new entrant, followed.

Thomas Zurbuchen will take the final decision, and the task of the forthcoming Mars mission will be to “explore the Red Planet for evidence of past habitability and microbial life.”

Onboard instruments of the rover will carry out necessary background work related to gathering the rock samples.

Incidentally, the tentative plan is to preserve the samples on the Red planet itself for retrieval by future missions

Factors to decide on 2020 Mars landing site

According to News AU, work to identify the most likely landing site has been going on since 2014. Matt Golombek, an official of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has indicated that in the first workshop, the list had 30 locations which was gradually whittled down to four based on the critical evaluation.

The final decision must take into account several important parameters related to engineering constraints, topography, and climatic conditions etcetera. NASA's 2020 Mars mission will concentrate on the habitability aspects as also signs of any lifeforms, and the final decision could come by the year-end. The rover will lift off in July 2020 and reach Mars by February 2021. Once on the planet, it will conduct preprogrammed tasks that will include an assessment of natural resources on Mars.