A Conversation with HiRISE . Chapter One

by Celine Semaan Vernon — November 14, 2014


When we launched our Mars, Revealed! Collection back on August 8th the day Curiosity Rover celebrated it's second year anniversary on the red Planet, I was contacted by Ari Espinoza from HiRISE. HiRISE is the  High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, a camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It is the very camera that allowed us to create our Mars, Revealed! Collection. Ari and I spoke and decided to catalog our conversation within our series of short interviews with scientist that I am thrilled to be sharing with you.


Celine : Hi Ari, Thank you for accepting to do this short interview with me. Just to start tell me a little bit about your position and your role at HiRISE

Hi!, I’m Ari Espinoza and I’m the Media And Education Public Outreach for HiRISE.

C: So what do you do there?

A: One thing that I am responsible for is our website, it’s design and making sure that information that we release to the public is available, I handle all of our social media channels (facebook, twitter, tumblr). I also answer media request and provide high resolution images for print on request, I talk to groups who are interested in Mars or Planetary science and talk about HiRISE and what we do and answer public questions about what we do.


C: In your own words, what is HiRSE?


A: HiRISE is the most powerful camera we have ever sent to another Planet, it’s an acronym (wikipedia)

We launched in 2005 and got to Mars in 2006 and we’ve been taken these images of Mars ever since. Our images are extremely detailed because there’s ever been a camera like this on any other space craft. And we are actually one instrument on board the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter - there is another camera too that has a much bigger footprint than ours, our camera can really focus in very very nicely on the terrain. We work with the other teams to coordinate observations, they might see something of interest and they might want a closer look, so our camera would take a close up. And it would allow for scientists to write papers and to observe the planet more closely to see if we can learn something more.



C: Is it going to stay there forever?

A: I would certainly like that because that way I could retire from this job, I believe we have enough fuel until 2023. That be plus or minus a few years depending on a lot of things, I’m not sure what the plans are after that. But there is an end life to the orbiter and to the instruments because they do age over time. It’s amazing that HiRISE and the other instruments have been in such good shape for 9 years.


C: From a tech perspective, what’s cool about HiRISE?


A: You know it’s really interesting how this camera can really zoom in and get very close. Our typical images are about 5 km across and about 10-13 km in length and you can get in very very close to see these boulders which would be about the size of a car. You could probably see a desk. And that’s amazing. This is a fantastic thing that we could actually see. I couldn’t be able to see you if you were standing there, but we could see your shadow. That’s how good this camera is. It’s really important that we help other missions take good safe landing spots. Like we did for the Phoenix lander in 2008, we did for the Mars Science Laboratory or CURIOSITY in 2012 and we also image other areas of scientific interest for other teams like Lander in 2020. There’s one in 2016. It’s just amazing to look up these pictures in full resolution and you realise “My Gosh, I’m looking at the surface of another Planet, and that is something my parents couldn’t do.. It’s just amazing.”



C: I’m freaking out over here! So cool! So, what’s your relationship like with NASA?


A: So here at HiRISE we are all part of NASA and the whole area under NASA that deals with Mars. All of the information that we have is for the public, it’s taxpayer funded, so we are part of that huge branch under NASA that says “hey! we are doing exploration and here is the fruit of our labour, here is all the data that we have. Here is all the images.” We don’t keep things for ourselves, and anybody can look at these pictures, can do their own research. And we are very proud to be under NASA and we believe that the work we are doing is extremely important.


C: How do you get these images back to Earth? Through Radio Waves? Do you download them? Does it take forever to download? How does it work?


A: So when we take a picture, it’s actually our science team that would find area that they would be interested in. And the public can also do this too - I’ll explain in a minute - so we find an area of interest, we find a list of targets, we cut those targets down in something we can do when we are on a particular orbit around Mars. And we take these images, and they are taken in a very long strip of information. That information is stored on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, it’s transmitted back to Earth through radiowaves and it goes through what we call the Deep Space Network. There are three of those here on Earth, there’s one in Australia, one in Spain and one in California. We get all this raw information here, in the University of Arizona, and we process it, then we make these pictures from that data that we put on our website. It doesn’t take that long, we could usually get our images back within a day if everything is going smoothly, it could take from 13 to 14 minutes to get it from Mars to Earth. The only time we have a hard time is when we have low data rate or when Mars in behind the Sun.


/// END of Chapter One \\\

We love NASA & we think it's mutual!

by Celine Semaan Vernon — November 12, 2014

Joyce has trained for the past 35 years astronaut and cosmonaut for the human life sciences experiments that are performed on the Int’l Space Station.

These experiments cover a variety of investigations on how long-term life in zero-gravity affects the human body (changes in retina, bone density, body mass, muscle atrophy, psychological stress, blood pressure, sleep patterns, nutrition, pulmonary function, etc.) While on the ISS, the astros/cosmos supply many urine, saliva, and blood samples, and use many different medical instruments such as ultrasound, mass measuring device, gas analyzer, etc. to provide more data for the scientists. They also vary their diet, exercise, and fill out questionnaires to provide as much data as possible to the scientists on the ground.

Joyce is part of a team that figures out which crew members need to get trained on what experiments, and works with all the various organizations involved to make sure their training materials are effective, the instructors are good teachers, the training gets scheduled, the crew members learn what they need to learn, and the training gets updated based on what actually happens on-orbit. 

The overall goal is to learn how humans adapt to zero-gravity, what things need to be done to ensure that they are able to maintain their health, and how that will affect future longer-duration spaceflight.

Joyce received the Gaza by Night (where we can see Gaza taken from the International Space Station taken by astronaut Alexander Gerst who landed on Earth this week!) All the information here comes from her colleague Susan who purchased the scarf as a surprise.

I love NASA!

Can Fashion & Activism Change the World?

by Celine Semaan Vernon — November 07, 2014

We believe that Fashion + Activism can facilitate change

It may be a little difficult to imagine that a fashion company was born out of NASA Satellite & Telescope images. It is even maybe even harder to imagine that this same company has a social message. That can raise awareness about Global Climate Change or empowering women in refugee camps. And yet, it is happening and it is making a significant change! What is coming next at Slow Factory is moving forward with our series of partnerships with Humanitarian & Environmental Organisations where we can weave in our work (no pun intended) a solid network and an innovating way to contribute and facilitate change in the world.

We are helping ANERA's work

by Celine Semaan Vernon — November 07, 2014

To Building a school in the West Bank

letter from the school principal, Amal Amr


My name is Amal Amr and I run the preschool in Al Majed. It’s a tiny village at the most southern point of the West Bank.


Actually I’m a preschool teacher, business manager and principal all at the same time. I’ve been doing this triple role for 23 years.


To be honest, it wasn’t what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I really wanted to be a painter. Art has always fascinated me. But the college I went to didn’t offer that major so I quit college altogether.


Then I was approached by people from a local cooperative from my village to run a preschool. Hmmm, I thought, I like kids, so why not? You know what? It was one of the best decisions I made. It changed my life.


The school has helped give me time for my artistic side and also gives me the chance to contribute directly to the youngest members of our community who are literally our future.


Every morning, I look forward to seeing my kids. I miss them as soon as we part for the day and think of them often even after they go on to first grade.


I have four kids of my own -- three boys aged 19, 15 and 4 and one girl, aged 11. And they were all enrolled in my preschool too. Actually, my youngest boy is here now and he loves having me around.


I am so proud when I learn about former students who have grown up and graduated from university because I feel that I had something to do with it.


The best feeling ever is when they come to the door of my preschool looking for me to check on how I’m doing.


My heart sings and I am more inspired to continue my work.


You know, I can’t imagine my village without this preschool. That’s why I have always kept it open even if I had to pay out of my own pocket. You see, the cooperative that helped me create the preschool could not afford to pay for more than a few years.


So, I had to manage on my own and often didn’t take a salary so I could pay for repairs and keep the place clean and tidy.


It was a dilapidated structure. Everything was falling apart and in bad need of repair. It was as bad as it could get. And, then the landlord recently squeezed us into two small rooms so the children had barely enough space to move around or play.


About a year ago, ANERA visited my preschool to evaluate it and see what they could do to help. They said the building was beyond repair.  Then, my dream came true. What ANERA has done has surpassed my wildest imagination. They are building us a brand new preschool, fully equipped and furnished. An entire building from nothing!


I still cannot believe it. I pinch myself every day now. Let me tell you, all the children are so excited and anxious to move into this beautiful new space. Education is so so important.


The families of Al Majd are grateful. And so am I.  Really.



The new school.

We are so proud to contribute in the work ANERA is doing, and you too have the opportunity to join forces with us. Together we can make a true difference.

Each scarf you purchase on Slow Factory contributes in the work ANERA does by empowering women in the under-served communities in Middle-East as well as all the women refugees in the region.


Demanding Dignity

by Celine Semaan Vernon — November 03, 2014


"It was cool - we basically brought all these people from the "front lines" of the uprisings together and put their stories in a book and tried to connect their stories and have a time capsule of this moment when there was hope, despite struggle etc. and the one thing uniting everyone was a demand for dignity. Hence the title!" – Ahmed Shihab-Eldin