Mars is a major focus of U.S. and international space programs with five spacecraft currently operational and actively collecting data: Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity. Science team members at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center are involved in all of these missions, and the Center supports mission operations, ground software development, and data archiving. USGS scientists are heavily involved in rover operations, which include instrument command, data analysis, and leadership of the tactical science team. The USGS also leads the development of software to process raw images into geolocated data products and the creation of topography maps from imagery. The topographic maps have been especially useful to plan the traverses of the Mars rovers, to find landing sites that are devoid of rocky terrain and slopes and to adjust the software parameters for the altitude-sensing radar systems used by Mars landers. Science research is diverse and includes studying bizarre solar-powered “geysers” in the dry-ice polar caps, mapping giant turbulent lava flows that formed in the last few million years, imaging microscopic salt grains and modeling global-scale patterns of windblown dust.
Thumbnail of the recently released geologic map of Mars produced by the USGS. This map lays the foundation for future exploration of Mars.