The most powerful mineral-mapper ever sent to Mars has
opened its protective cover and is about to begin its
search for hints of past water on the red planet.
The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for
Mars, designed and built by the
Johns Hopkins Applied
Physics Laboratory, is one of six science instruments
aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. CRISM's
spring-loaded cover had been closed since the orbiter's
launch in August 2005, protecting the imager's sensitive
telescope optics from fuel residue and heat as the
spacecraft eased into orbit around Mars. On Sept. 27, a day
after turning on CRISM's power and putting the device
through a series of performance tests, operators opened the
cover and verified that it had deployed properly.
"Everything went smoothly, and our team is looking
forward to our first images," said Scott Murchie, CRISM
principal investigator from APL.
CRISM is looking for areas that were wet long enough
to leave a mineral signature on the surface, searching for
the spectral traces of aqueous and hydrothermal deposits,
and mapping the geology, composition and stratigraphy of
surface features. The imager will map areas on the Martian
surface as small as 60 feet across, with the orbiter at its
average altitude of about 190 miles.
Offering greater capability to map spectral variations
than any similar instrument sent to another planet, CRISM
will read 544 "colors" in reflected sunlight to detect
minerals in the surface. Its highest resolution is about 20
times sharper than any previous look at Mars in
near-infrared wavelengths. By identifying sites most likely
to have contained water, CRISM data will help determine the
best potential landing sites for future Mars missions
seeking fossils or even traces of life.
Peter Bedini, the CRISM project manager from APL,
said, "It's been a long 13 months since launch, waiting
throughout the aerobraking phase until we could safely
expose the instrument optics. The time was well used,
though, as we completed the development of a very
sophisticated system for collecting, processing and
distributing the data we'll soon be taking with CRISM."
APL, which has built more than 150 spacecraft
instruments over the past four decades, led the effort to
develop, integrate and test CRISM. Its co-investigators are
top planetary scientists from Brown University; Arizona
State University; Space Science Institute; Washington
University in St. Louis; University of Paris; Applied
Coherent Technology Corp.; and NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, Ames Research
Center and Johnson Space Center.
The mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of
Technology, Pasadena, for the NASA Science Mission
Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems,
Denver, is the prime contractor and built the MRO
For more information about CRISM, go to
For more about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, go to