Initial Publication Date: August 17, 2010 | Reviewed: June 24, 2014

Mars Landing Site Analysis Lab

Brian Hynek, University of Colorado


Students use recent data acquired from Mars orbiters to assess the safety and scientific value of various proposed landing sites for a future Mars lander.


Type and level of course
Entry level GIS course, but toward the end of the semester once they are familiar with raster analysis and DEM rendering.

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment
Basic understanding of Mars, NASA's goals at the planet, and current and upcoming missions and instrumentation. Image interpretation.

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment
Moderate proficiency with GIS analysis and DEM rendering.

Software required for this assignment/activity:
ArcGIS with spatial analyst, or equivalent. DEM/raster analysis is a must.

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
4 hours


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
Comparative analysis of topographic, thermal and image data.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Synthesis of data analysis in terms of science potential and safety for a hypothetical landed mission to the location.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are briefed on Mars, NASA's goals at the planet and current analysis being completed for landing site selection. They complete a mock GIS analysis of a potential landing site by learning about their site and why it is scientifically important. Then they assess the engineering criteria to determine how safe it is and if the rover can navigate safely and efficiently. Finally, they use imagery to determine what the rover might find once on the ground and plan out a nominal traverse for the rover, including key locations for detailed study. Results of their work are presented to their peers and students try to convince the others that their landing site is the best choice.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Assessment of their presentation to the class - did they complete the GIS analysis properly and their presentation should synthesize the results and formulate hypotheses to be tested if a rover landed in that location.
More information about assessment tools and techniques.

URLs and References

Listed within the activity. These URLs may change down the road but NASA generally maintains these sites/data over the years.

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