NASA seeks Mars requests

NASA

As Earth comes closer to Mars this month than it has in nearly 60,000 years, NASA will give the public an unprecedented opportunity to suggest places on the Red Planet that an orbiting spacecraft should photograph.

Operators for the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft are taking suggestions online for new images from the Mars Orbiter Camera. Information about how to submit requests can be found on the new Mars Orbiter Camera Target Request Site, at http://www.msss.com/plan/intro.

"We've only covered about 3 percent of the surface area of Mars with the high-resolution camera," said Ken Edgett, staff scientist at Malin Space Science Systems Inc., the supplier and operator of the camera for NASA. "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."

The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since 1997, completing more than 20,000 orbits to date. The camera, which can show features as small as a school bus, has already taken more than 120,000 pictures, which have revealed scientific discoveries such as recent gully erosion and ancient sedimentary rocks.

The first images from this public suggestion program will probably be released this fall, as suggestions will have to wait for the spacecraft to fly directly over the selected targets.

"Some of the best requests may be places nowhere near any site the Mars Orbiter Camera has imaged before," Edgett said. "We'll look at every request that comes in."

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