A Conversation with HiRISE . Chapter One
by Celine Semaan Vernon
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.
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