The quest continues to find carbon to make it really in the HZ or Habitable Zone. For this solar system, Mars orbits just outside it by about a half of an AU or astronomical unit. Finding elements of planetary habitability spurs more missions to explore Mars in a multitude of international projects. The Mars Science Laboratory is the granddaughter/son of the rovers with more agility. Russia and China have a joint mission with a return with soil and rocks component in Phobos-Grunt from the Martian moon. in 2013, the European Space Agency will launch sophisticated ExoMars rovers of their own with a bigger drill. With each find of all of the equipment and technology launched to Mars, the space race heats up to get to Mars and stake claims. Interesting Martian land rush for a planet that has taken some megaton blows, has radiation because of a thin atmosphere and needs to drill down to get to the buried treasures that may contain microbes or other life.
The project's lead chemist, Samuel Kounaves, from the University of Arizona says he is flabbergasted by what has come back.
"The sort of soil you have there is the type of soil you'd probably have in your backyard, you know, alkaline.
"You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well - strawberries probably not really well."
Everyday Mars becomes more interesting. In the last week we have learned of water, that the soil can sustain a hearty green veggie garden, peaks and valleys on one side with flat plains the result of an asteroid face plant at the same time as Earth.
Writing in the journal Nature, three groups of scientists describe how four billion years ago, soon after the formation of the solar system, an asteroid between a half and two thirds the size of the moon struck the planet at an angle of 30 to 60 degrees.
The impact unleashed an explosion equivalent to 100bn gigatonnes of TNT and created a scar 10,600km long and 8,500km across, the largest impact crater known anywhere in the solar system. The crater, a giant basin that covers 42% of the planet's surface, is roughly the size of Europe, Asia and Australia combined.
No doubt, there is an anticipatory scientific community of thousands that would do anything to catch the first manned one way rocket to explore Mars. Scientist, William K. Hartmann puts it in perspective in his book, A Traveler's Guide To Mars.