NASA Invites Public to Pick Pixels on Mars


image MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- The most powerful camera aboard a NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars will soon be taking photo suggestions from the public.

Since arriving at Mars in 2006, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has recorded nearly 13,000 observations of the Red Planet's terrain. Each image covers dozens of square miles and reveal details as small as a desk. Now, anyone can nominate sites for pictures.

"The HiRISE team is pleased to give the public this opportunity to propose imaging targets and share the excitement of seeing your favorite spot on Mars at people-scale resolution," said Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the camera and a researcher at the University of Arizona.

The idea to take suggestions from the public based on the original concept of the HiRISE instrument, when its planners nicknamed it "the people's camera." Scientists anticipate that more people will become interested in exploring the Red Planet as their suggestions for imaging targets increase the camera's already bountiful science return. Despite the thousands of pictures already taken, less than one percent of the Martian surface has been photographed.

Students, researchers and others can view Mars maps using a new online tool to see where images have been taken, check which targets already have been suggested and make new suggestions.

"The process is fairly simple," said Guy McArthur, systems programmer on the HiRISE team at the University of Arizona. "With the tool, you can place your rectangle on Mars where you'd like."

McArthur developed the online tool, called "HiWish," with Ross Beyer, principal investigator and research scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and the SETI Institute, Mountain View, Calif.

In addition to identifying the location on a map, anyone nominating a target will be asked to give the observation a title, explain the potential scientific benefit from photographing the site and incorporate it in one of the camera team's 18 science themes. The themes include categories such as impact processes, seasonal processes and volcanic processes.

The HiRISE science team will evaluate suggestions and prioritize them. Thousands of pending photographic targets from scientists and the public will be imaged when the orbiter's track and other conditions are optimal.

HiRISE is one of six instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Launched in August 2005, the orbiter reached Mars the following year to begin a two-year primary science mission. The spacecraft has found that Mars has experienced diverse wet environments at many locations for differing durations in the planet's history, and Martian climate-change cycles continue today. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is in an extended science phase and will continue to take several thousand images a year. The mission has returned more data about Mars than all other spacecraft combined.

"This opportunity opens up a new path to students and others to participate in ongoing exploration of Mars," said the mission's project scientist, Rich Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

The University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.

To make camera suggestions, visit: http://uahirise.org/suggest/

For more information about the MRO mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mro

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