Researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field recently developed “Marsoweb,” an interactive Web site to help scientists select suitable landing sites for future missions to Mars. Scientists currently preparing for NASA’s next Mars mission, the twin Mars Exploration Rovers scheduled for launch in June and July 2003, are now able to view more than 44,000 high-resolution images of the red planet collected by the Mars Global Surveyor. The images are registered with context images and maps of thermal properties, rock abundance, slope roughness and geology acquired by the Viking and Global surveyor orbiters and with data returned by the Global Surveyor, which is still operating on Mars. The site also provides scientists with special software tools to facilitate their interpretation of the data. The Center for Mars Exploration (CMEX), in collaboration with the NASA Advanced Supercomputing division at NASA Ames created this Web site to make sure that future Mars lander projects can benefit fully from all the available remote-sensing data to allow them to select the best landing sites — namely, those that combine scientific appeal and mission safety,’ explained Dr. Geoffrey Briggs, scientific director of CMEX at Ames.
The goal of the Mars Exploration Rover mission is to learn more about Mars’s geologic and climate history, both of which are closely tied to the history of water on Mars and to the possibility that life may have evolved there. Scientists are using orbital data to help them select landing sites of geological interest — where water was once available and the past environment may have been conductive for life. Orbital images reveal many regions that evidently have been shaped by water and the Thermal Emission Spectrometer on Global Surveyor has identified a region where the mineral hematite, an iron oxide sometimes formed in the presence of water, is abundant. The main goal of Marsoweb has been to provide online analysis and visualization tools so the science community can interpret the highest resolution images in their regional context and with the benefit of the other remote-sensing information that is available,’ Gulick said.