It might be a couple decades until we actually put boots on the Red Planet, but NASA is hard at work trying to figure out where future astronauts should set up camp.
According to Space, NASA is planning a workshop in Houston, Texas this October to start on the first "serious discussions" about potential landing sites for the space agency's first manned Mars mission. If current plans hold, the first NASA astronauts should arrive on Mars in the mid-to-late 2030s. Considering we're talking about a whole planet, there will be a whole lot of options on the table.
The researchers are expected to propose and consider approximately 62 mile-wide potential exploration zones. The teams will be considering a host of different variables. Major signposts include areas that are resource-rich to help the astronauts survive, have the potential for sub-surface ice (since those explorers will need water), and a site that is "scientifically interesting" so they might actually find some stuff of note.
NASA's Planetary Science Division head Jim Green said he expects the summit to be a "hot debate," and will serve as the first step toward a human station on Mars. Following the workshop later this year, NASA will study the most promising sites in additional detail from orbit with the Mars Odyssey spacecraft and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It's a big decision, to be sure, so it's a good thing we have 20+ years to get it right.