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Technical Announcement:
Searching for Detailed Image Information for the Moon and Mars Just Got a Whole Lot Easier

Released: 4/21/2009 6:18:14 PM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
James Skinner 1-click interview
Phone: 928-556-7043



Detailed searches of planetary images are now available through a new Web-based tool created by USGS Astrogeology Science Center web-developers, scientists, and cartographers. The tool, which is funded by NASA's Planetary Data System, is being unveiled to the public this week. 

The Planetary Image Locator Tool (PILOT) has been under development for more than a year and recently completed its test phases.  Information Technology (IT) Specialist and PILOT co-developer Mark Bailen describes PILOT as "a tool for planetary scientists to locate images [acquired] by various space missions."  Though PILOT currently includes Martian and Lunar data sets, it is constructed to host all images available for the planets and moons of the Solar System. 

Dr. Lisa Gaddis, the project's lead scientist, says "PILOT provides a single site that lets scientists quickly identify and download all relevant data for a particular region of scientific interest."  Though PILOT was built to serve the needs of planetary scientists, IT Specialist and PILOT co-developer Scott Akins notes that space enthusiasts will likely be interested in this tool.  "There is some appeal for the general public," say Akins.  "People are used to going to internet sites and finding their house or directions to a restaurant, now you can go to a map site and see what's on Mars!" 

If PILOT sounds similar to explorer-type internet applications, it is because it was engineered with similar interests in mind.  The USGS Astrogeology Science Center recently assisted Google, Inc. with the release of Mars data in Google Earth 5.0.  However, Bailen notes that "PILOT has a more distinct niche than products like Google Earth" because it provides behind-the-scenes information on each image.  That kind of detailed information helps scientists locate images on a planet with the level of accuracy critical for scientific study by not only orbiting and roving spacecraft, but eventually also for humans. 

As its name suggests, PILOT will not stop where it is but will continue to evolve.  Major updates scheduled for the next year include adding images from other planets, improving search capabilities, and refining download options.  PILOT's capabilities can be explored online.  


The mission of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center is to serve the Nation, the international planetary science community, and the general public's pursuit of new knowledge of our Solar System. The Center's vision is to be a national resource for the integration of planetary geosciences, cartography, and remote sensing. As explorers and surveyors, with a unique heritage of proven expertise and international leadership, USGS astrogeologists enable the ongoing successful investigation of the Solar System for humankind.


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