‹ Past Exhibitions

Rover Landings: Cornell on Mars

Spectacular images from the surface of another world bring science and art together in this special exhibition.

In 2000, Cornell University was selected by NASA to lead the design, development, testing, and operations of the scientific instruments for a robotic rover mission to the surface of Mars. Under the leadership of Steven W. Squyres, Cornell’s Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy and the principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, and James F. Bell, Cornell associate professor of astronomy and the lead scientist for the mast-mounted color panoramic camera system called Pancam, the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, began sending to Earth in January 2004 the clearest, most detailed images of Martian landscapes ever seen.

Producing these images of Mars is truly a team effort. Hundreds of individuals contribute to the process of planning, executing, calibrating, and delivering the finished product. Several meetings are required each day via teleconferences from around the world. The collaboration is not only among scientists, but also engineers who have built the rovers and operate them on Mars. For this exhibition, team members have selected their favorite images and panoramas, from both a scientific and artistic viewpoint, from the over 70,000 images acquired by both rovers.

Originally designed to last for ninety Martian days, the two rovers are still creeping over the rocky and dusty terrain of Mars more than four hundred days after their landings, capturing a pictorial record of their journeys, resulting in many thousands of images of a ruddy planet.

Each rover is about the size of a golf cart and is equipped with a suite of scientific instruments to collect evidence about the past environmental history of Mars, especially the history of liquid water. This “Athena science payload” includes Pancam’s two multispectral, high-resolution stereo cameras to view the Martian surface in unprecedented detail, and the Microscopic Imager to produce extreme close-up views of target rocks and soils. The rovers also carry engineering cameras called Navcams (for navigation), and Hazcams (for hazard avoidance).