After seven long months in outer space, NASA's Perseverance Rover finally landed on Mars on February 18th, and I’m sure you all saw the images, videos and even audio recordings it’s been sending back to us humans on Earth. Perseverance wasn’t the only mission to Mars last month, though. The United Arab Emirates sent a probe around Mars to study its atmosphere, and China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter reached the red planet, too, with a plan to spend a few months analyzing the surface of the planet before deploying the first non-American rover on Mars.
For decades, NASA and its international counterparts have made it their mission to observe and analyze the planets and objects in our solar system. Advances in geographic information systems (GIS) technology have enabled us to visualize and map celestial bodies like never before, turning the data collected from orbiters and rovers - such as the ones sent last month - into a wealth of spatial information.
Just think: the same technology that allows us to share and market real estate properties, survey and appraise plots of land or visualize natural resources such as timber or water is currently being used to explore outer space. How cool is that?
GIS in Space
Space exploration that utilizes GIS has become a crucial part of NASA’s mission in lieu of sending astronauts to these extremely remote locations. With the help of probes and rovers, we’re able to develop a broader understanding of geophysics and gather valuable information about our own planet. So, while a human has never actually visited a planet such as Mars, scientists are highly familiar with the terrain.
Going to Mars...
Since the 1960s, nine countries have launched 49 missions to Mars that include orbiters (which never actually land on the surface), landers (which are stationary) and rovers (which move around the surface). One of the most successful was the 2001 Mars Odyssey. This orbiter has been collecting spatial and geological data and transmitting back to scientists for further analysis for the last 20 years. This information has allowed them to generate a detailed model of the planet, learn about the many different types of rocks and minerals on the planet, study the effects of tectonic activity on the surface and chart the most productive paths for Mars rovers.
The New Horizons mission launched in January 2006. Over the next nine years, it traveled toward Pluto with the goal of using the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) onboard to capture an up-close look at Pluto and its moons. Along the way, it visited Jupiter, and after it passed Pluto in 2015, it moved on to examine more of the Kuiper Belt.
The spatial information gathered allowed scientists to create planetary maps that will help us learn about the geology, topology and geography of these distant celestial objects.
GIS on Earth
Learning as much as we can about other planets is an important part of eventually launching a successful manned mission to a place like Mars, or even Pluto. In this way, NASA scientists’ application of GIS is not so different from how our Land id™ (formerly MapRight) customers use GIS right now. You want to learn as much as you can about a piece of land in order to plan future development and usage, and then you want to share that knowledge with others.
Someday, you’ll be able to create and share your own maps of parcels of land on other planets using GIS, but for now, we’ll have to satisfy ourselves with the surface of our own planet. If you’re ready to start mapping Earth, sign up for a 14-day free trial of Land id™ today.