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Would anyone have any insights or articles on the best location to land on Mars for a manned mission where the crew would establish their base and live on Mars for a couple months? (But I know we are not ready to live long-term on Mars)

Edit: Sorry for the broadness. I meant more in terms of the best location to land in terms of habitability, since the crew will be establishing base and living on it for several months. Or could it be said that the location would not matter, since technology could negate the differences in location (e.g. technology could keep the temeperature ideal)? I would appreciate any insights or any new information that I could learn.

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  • $\begingroup$ stumped, this question needs a little more qualification to prevent it from being primarily opinion-based. "Best location to land a manned mission" is both broad and vague and will attract only speculation. If you could specify what sort of manned mission you are interested in, and maybe detail some criteria that you think might come into consideration in deciding the landing site, the question might be answerable. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Apr 17 '14 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ That looks better, I also improved your title a little bit. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Apr 17 '14 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think anyone really knows the optimal location for human habitat. The main determining factor would be access to water. Determining an optimal location for anything would require a thorough multi-criteria spatial analysis. See this question I asked on GIS.SE on how Gale Crater was chosen for the landing site for Curiosity. It was through a rigorous analysis. I expect a similar, if not more rigorous, analysis will be undertaken to determine a human habitat location. $\endgroup$ – Fezter Apr 18 '14 at 8:56
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If you're only talking several months, or a year and a half which is a typical surface duration for a human expedition, then habitability is generally not a factor in site selection. The expedition brings their own resources for a mission of that duration, including water, which is partially recycled, and nuclear power. The exception is a reliance on Mars atmospheric CO2 from which to extract oxygen for breathing and return rocket propellants (using the C as well). Since the CO2 is everywhere, it has no bearing on site selection. You can see an example in NASA's Design Reference Architecture.

The main landing site selection criteria would be landing safety, which includes a limit on altitude, and, presuming that it is a scientific expedition, how well the landing site is expected to meet the science objectives. There will likely be an upper limit on latitude, based on the inclination of the return orbiter and capability of the rocket that will take them from the base to Mars orbit. A latitude limit is also useful for bounding the requirements on habitat thermal control. (Habitats include roving vehicles and spacesuits.) The science objectives quoted are usually related to the search for evidence of life that had originated on Mars.

Other constraints may derive from planetary protection concerns, in particular protecting Earth from putative Martian organisms that the crew might bring back outside of sealed sample containers. From the report:

In order for humans to explore Mars and return to Earth safely, it will be necessary to identify sites on Mars that are free of hazards to the Earth’s biosphere. This is because astronauts on the martian surface inevitably would be exposed to local martian materials such as dust, and the plan is to return the astronauts to Earth at the end of the mission. The astronauts are therefore a potential vector for the transport of martian dust, which must be shown in advance to be sufficiently safe. The Space Studies Board has recommended the designation of Zones of Minimum Biological Risk (ZBRs) that are regions demonstrated to be safe for humans. That is, astronauts would only be allowed in areas that are demonstrated to be safe. For the initial landing site, such testing would probably have been performed as a part of the precursor mission activities, which may include analysis on Earth of returned martian samples, particularly wind-blown dust.

The same planetary protection concerns require the protection of Mars habitats from human-borne microorganisms:

The strategy that was adopted for the current DRA envisions targeting the human landing site that would be located within an area that is already known to be safe to humans (a zone of minimum biological risk) and in which microbial contamination would be permitted.

If humans have to avoid the very thing we might be looking for, it would put into question why we would send them. If such constraints cannot be avoided, a human expedition might be limited to the search for evidence of life in the fossil record.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer is a classic - there is so much thought described. I suppose the poles might not be so hot (pun intended) and have less backup solar power, and the high altitudes having especially low atmospheric pressure might make O2 and C extraction a little slower? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Oct 24 '16 at 0:24
  • $\begingroup$ My understanding is that the Martian atmosphere is so thin that the base is much closer to being like the ISS not Everest, so they'd most likely need to expel heat through radiators like ISS does. (Though fewer since the base will lose about 50% more heat than ISS does, ie from black body radiation alone.) $\endgroup$ – Brooks Nelson Dec 21 '18 at 20:07

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