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UA Planetary Scientists' Mars-mapping Project Archived in Smithsonian History of Information Technology
UA Planetary Scientists' Mars-mapping Project Archived in Smithsonian History of Information Technology
30 Mar 2000
(Source: University of Arizona)

By Lori Stiles

News Services
University of Arizona

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The Smithsonian Institution is adding a University of Arizona Mars-mapping project to its permanent research collection on information technology in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

The project is among more than 440 case studies from 38 states and 21 nations being formally archived as the 2000 Information Technology Innovation Collection at ceremonies in Washington, D.C. on Monday, April 3.

And UA planetary scientists behind the project have been nominated for a Computerworld Smithsonian Award for the project, "Mars Probe 2001: Real Time 3D Mapping with Internet Access to Results."

They intend to build a three-dimensional map, or globe, of the surface of the planet Mars with data from the Gamma Ray Spectrometer aboard the Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter Spacecraft. The map will visually present the elemental composition of Mars' surface and near-surface so that users can retrieve information on a particular region anywhere on the global map via the Internet, said Chris Shinohara.

Shinohara, a science data analyst at the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab, is active in UA's Mars exploration efforts, including Imager for Mars Pathfinder, Mars Polar Lander, and Mars Surveyor 2001.

Research scientists, advanced science students - or students still in grade school - will be able to interactively learn using the map, according to the mapping-project team.

"Instead of just reading a book about Mars, young students could scan the surface and make their own discoveries from the same data the scientists use," Jasbir Bhangoo said in a project summary sent to the Smithsonian.

Bhangoo will represent the UA team at Computerworld Smithsonian ceremonies in Washington, D.C., on Monday. He is a principal systems programmer at the UA Lunar and Planetary Lab and member of the Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) team headed by UA planetary sciences Professor William V. Boynton.

"I am really excited about the prospects of having our data available to the public in a way in which it can be easily visualized," Boynton said. "I hope it gets school kids interested in studying more science."

"The main benefit of this project is that it unites the surface composition data of Mars acquired from space with a complete map of the surface," Bhangoo said. "The ability to examine the data visually is important since the surface of Mars is heterogeneous." That is, the easiest and fastest way to compare the mixed-chemical surfaces of Mars is to view them.

Another essential key feature is that the map will be on the Internet. UA project scientists will employ advanced database technology and a high- performance server to handle the anticipated heavy user load. Given the resources and a little extra time, they also will provide easy public Internet access to results. That is particularly important as their project was funded by the tax-paying public, they note.

"Combining planetary data with a visual map is a unique problem," the team said in the summary. "There have not been many elemental maps made for surfaces other than Earth's. None of these offer the spatial querying capability we propose."

The interactive Mars-mapping project is still being developed. The UA researchers expect to have finished the project by the time the Mars Orbiter begins its orbital phase mapping Mars' surface early in 2002.

The first users will be a community of about 50 scientists studying the origins of Mars. Once the application is working smoothly, UA students, and then students in general, will be able to use the map. The goal is then to make the system available to anyone across the Internet.

A focus of the mapping project - and the Mars Surveyor program - is to prepare for eventual human exploration of Mars, they add. "The knowledge of elemental composition (including water) is essential to sustain life in this hostile environment," they said in the summary.

Lawrence Ellison, chairman and chief executive officer of Oracle Corp., nominated the UA planetary sciences department for the award in the education and academia category. Oracle Corp. is a consultant on the project.

"The laureates in this year's collection are utilizing new information age tools to extend the benefits of technology to society," said Dan Morrow, executive director of the Computerworld Smithsonian Awards Program.

"The primary source material submitted by the University of Arizona department of planetary sciences will enrich the National Museum of American History's growing collection on the history of information technology," said Spencer R. Crew, director of the National Museum of American History. "It will contribute significantly to the museum's on-going efforts to chronicle the Information Age."

Final candidates for the Computerworld Smithsonian Awards will be selected in a few weeks, a program coordinator said. Winners will be named in June and feted at a huge awards gala.

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Last Updated: 5 Jun 2001