The University of Arizona’s High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is scheduled to take its first images of Mars at 9:41 p.m. Mountain Time Thursday night, March 23.

According to the latest schedule, the HiRISE camera will take four images of Mars between 9:41 p.m. and 9:50 p.m. Thursday. The camera will also take a second set of images during another orbit, between 9:15 a.m. and 9:22 a.m. Mountain Time on Saturday, March 25.

“We could have our data in hand as early as an hour-and-a-half, or two hours after the observations,” said Eric Eliason of UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, or as soon as 11:15 p.m. Thursday and 10:45 a.m. Saturday. Eliason manages the HiRISE Operations Center (HiROC) in the C. P. Sonett Space Sciences Building, 1541 E. University Blvd, on the UA campus.

*** EDITORS – Media are welcome at HiROC as the team views the camera’s first images. For more information, contact HiRISE team member Loretta McKibben, 520-626-7432, loretta @, or Lori Stiles, University Communications, 520-626-4402, ***

HiRISE images taken during two orbits will be the camera’s only photos for the next six months because the camera will be turned off while the spacecraft “aerobrakes.” This involves dipping repeatedly into the upper atmosphere to scrub off speed and drop into successively more circular orbits.

The NASA spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), will provide more science data than all previous Mars missions combined. HiRISE is the most powerful telescope camera ever sent to another planet.

The first images will be highly experimental because the team is trying a number of algorithms and systems for the first time, so things could go wrong, said UA planetary sciences Professor Alfred McEwen, who leads HiRISE. “However, we are sure to learn important lessons about how to operate the spacecraft and HiRISE.”

Also, the geometries of the early orbits may be less than ideal for the HiRise camera’s test-image swath. And there’s a chance that atmospheric dust or ice hazes could obscure the surface because it’s early fall in the southern hemisphere.

The camera’s first images will be taken at middle latitudes of the southern hemisphere when the MRO is flying between 1,500 miles and 800 miles (2,500 km and 1,300 km) above the planet. After aerobraking, the camera will fly just outside the planet’s atmosphere at only 190 miles (about 300 km) above the surface.

Some of the camera’s first targets next fall will be of potential landing sites for UA’s Phoenix Mission lander, which is slated to reach the Martian surface in May 2008. This Scout-class lander mission is led by LPL scientist Peter Smith. The Phoenix Mission will communicate with Earth using MRO’s high-data-rate relay.

The MRO mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft.

PIO Contact: Lori Stiles

Contact Information

Alfred S. McEwen 520-621-4573
Eric Eliason 520-626-0764
Loretta McKibben 520-626-7432