August 20, 2003
Earth comes closer to Mars this month than it has in nearly 60,000 years, but one new opportunity for seeing details on the red planet comes from a vantage point much closer.
The public has an unprecedented opportunity to suggest places on Mars that should be photographed from a spacecraft orbiting that planet. Camera operators for NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft are ready to take suggestions online for new places to target for images from the Mars Orbiter Camera.
The spacecraft, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has been orbiting Mars since 1997, with more than 20,000 orbits so far. The Mars Orbiter Camera has already taken more than 120,000 pictures of Mars. Many of the camera's images have sharp enough resolution to show features as small as a school bus. The images have revealed relatively recent gully erosion, ancient sedimentary rocks and many other spectacular scientific surprises.
"We've only covered about three percent of the surface area of Mars with the high-resolution camera. We want to be sure we're not missing some place that could be important, so we're casting a wide net for new suggestions," said Dr. Ken Edgett, staff scientist at Malin Space Science Systems, the San Diego firm that supplied and operates the camera for NASA. "We're looking for excellent suggestions of areas on Mars that we have not already imaged. We'll look at every request that comes in."
"NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft team will examine each request to ensure the safety of this priceless 'eye in the sky' above Mars," said Dr. Jim Garvin, NASA's lead scientist for Mars exploration at NASA Headquarters, Washington.
Information about how to submit requests is online at the new Mars Orbiter Camera Target Request Site, at http://www.msss.com/plan/intro.
Requesters should describe the purpose for the suggested image. Suggestions for target sites already imaged by the camera will be disqualified unless there is a convincing reason for repeating the target. An online gallery of pictures taken by the camera is at http://www.msss.com/moc_gallery/.
Some of the best requests may be places nowhere near any site the Mars Orbiter Camera has imaged before," Edgett said. As with pictures desired by Mars scientists working with the camera every day, new suggestions will need to wait until the Mars Global Surveyor flies directly over the selected target, which could be several months or longer. The first images from this public suggestion program will probably be released this fall.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages Mars Global Surveyor for NASA's Office of Space Science in Washington, D.C. JPL's industrial partner is Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, which developed and operates the spacecraft. Malin Space Science Systems and the California Institute of Technology built the Mars Orbiter Camera. Malin Space Science Systems operates the camera from facilities in San Diego.
For information about NASA on the Internet, visit http://www.nasa.gov.
Information about Mars Global Surveyor is available on the Internet at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs.
Contact: Guy Webster (818) 354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Donald Savage (202) 358-1547
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Ken Edgett (858) 552-2650 ext. 500
Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif.