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[i]R.S.L.s are treated as special regions that NASA’s current robotic explorers are barred from because the rovers were not thoroughly sterilized, and NASA worries that they might be carrying microbial hitchhikers from Earth that could contaminate Mars.
Of the spacecraft NASA has sent to Mars, only the two Viking landers in 1976 were baked to temperatures hot enough to kill Earth microbes. NASA’s next Mars rover, scheduled to launch in 2020, will be no cleaner. Sterilizing spacecraft, which requires electronics and systems that can withstand the heat of baking, adds to the cost and complicates the design.
In selecting the landing site for the 2020 rover, the space agency is ruling out places that might be habitable, including those with R.S.L.s.
That prohibition may continue even though two candidate R.S.L.s have been identified on the mountain in Gale Crater that NASA’s Curiosity rover is now exploring, not very far from its current planned path.
NASA and the Curiosity team could decide to approach the streaks without driving onto them, or to simply observe from a distance. The rover still has at least several months of driving before it would pass them.[/i]
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