NASA this afternoon announced that it has selected a University of
Arizona-led team’s proposed very high resolution camera called “HiRISE” for
the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a powerful scientific orbiter planned for
launch in August 2005.

“HiRISE will be used to study martian landscapes at 25 centimeter (10-inch)
resolution, which is good enough to see rocks the size of footballs or
soccer balls,” said Alfred S. McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and
Planetary Laboratory, principal investigator for HiRISE. The camera’s color
stereo images of the martian surface will be at least six times higher
resolution than any existing images.

“While the current images would let us see an SUV on Mars, HiRISE would let
us identify the model. We might even be able to tell the state its from by
the color of the license plate,” said Laszlo Keszthelyi, LPL research
associate and co-investigator on HiRISE.

“If you were on Mars,” Keszthelyi added, “we could see you in a HiRISE

Images are expected to improve understanding of surface processes related to
water. Combining high-resolution color images and digital elevation data
obtained with HiRISE will be especially important in choosing future landing
sites and planning rover traverses, the team said in their proposal.

Imaging scientists typically must settle for either very detailed images
that cover smaller areas or less detailed images that cover larger areas.

But, McEwen said, “We will have our cake and eat it, too: We will cover a
lot of area, and we will cover it in great detail.” It’s almost like having
images from a lander, he said: “HiRISE can virtually take us anywhere on the
surface of Mars that we choose.”

For an idea of the detailed (20,000 x 40,000 pixel) views HiRISE will get of
the martian landscape, the team made a HiRISE-like image of the Grand
Canyon. It covers the width of Grand Canyon while showing individual rocks
and boulders. This picture soon will be posted along with fact sheets and
other information already on the web site at

Ball Aerospace Corp. of Boulder, Colo., will build and test the $31 million

Dozens of UA students will be involved in analyzing the enormous amount of
data returned from HiRise after it reaches Mars in 2006, McEwen said.
Scientists expect that the entire Mars Renconnaissance Mission will return
about 20 times as much information as has the Mars Global Surveyor, he

“One of the most exciting aspects about HiRISE is that we plan to involve
the public, especially school children, in all parts of the operation —
from selecting the parts of Mars to image to making sense of what the
pictures mean,” Keszthelyi said.

And HiRISE will be a “people’s camera” in that all images will be released
within a few days or weeks, for example. Near real-time images will be
shown on large screen displays at the Smithsonian Institution and the Lunar
and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, the scientists said.

Co-investigators on HiRISE also include Ken Herkenhoff, Randy Kirk and Eric
Eliason of the U.S. Geological Survey – Flagstaff; and others.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter also will carry a high-resolution
spectrometer, an Italian-built subsurface sounding radar, and three
experiments replicating those lost on Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999.

Contact Information

Alfred S. McEwen (principal investigator)


Laszlo Keszthelyi (co-investigator)