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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will spy for you, HiRise camera taking requests

This artist's animation of the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
This artist's animation of the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Smile for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter! HiRISE, a camera aboard the MRO orbiting spacecraft, is taking requests with an online wishlist of what earthlings want to see on Mars.

NASA's Curiosity is getting up close and personal with the surface of the red planet, but the eye in the sky that helped get it there could be looking beyond the Gale Crater, if you ask it nicely, and in the right way.

The HiWish program, which began in January 2010, announced "the people's camera" would be open to public suggestion, and started delivering images of civilian-selected locales within a few months.

"Explore Mars, one giant image at a time," is the HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) motto, and project researchers continue to look to the home planet for input about where to point the camera.

Earth-tethered explorers can help HiRISE decide what should be photographed next by searching existing images, browsing known targets, and suggesting new ones. 

Operated out of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, HiRISE has "huge capability to do detailed imaging," JPL's Guy Webster told KPCC, noting that the camera could capture on the surface of Mars something "the size of a washing machine." 

Amid the current commotion, Webster said he hoped people would be reminded about what an "amazing instrument" HiRISE is, and take advantage of the public possibilities, even with Curiosity phoning home photos from the surface.

KPCC asked Webster if combining perspectives with Curiosity's data would paint a more complete picture of the rover's landscape. As one would hope, he was way ahead of us. 

Webster told KPCC that there isn't an inch for miles around Curiosity's landing area that hasn't already been photographed by the HiRISE camera, calling its image database of the area, "comprehensive."

What morsel of Mars do you want to see?