The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston is part of the Universities Space Research Association, and is a NASAfunded institute that conducts research in the lunar, planetary, and terrestrial sciences on behalf of university science departments and NASA. The most recent project between the University of Houston (UH) and the LPI seeks to identify and characterize the natural landscape structures of Mars, such as the inside of craters, valley networks, and the outside and inside rims of craters and inter-crater plains. Identifying these structures is important because rocks, minerals, and geologic landforms hold clues to past water activity on Mars. Understanding the history of water on Mars is a part of NASA’s long-term Mars Exploration Project.
UH and LPI have joined to develop new computational tools to characterize large portions of the Martian landscape. Combining techniques from data mining, machine learning, and geomorphology, the UH research group provides data analysis methods for the analysis of Mars’s surface. LPI then processes all data obtained from the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. This data is subsequently used to construct global topographic maps of Mars in the form of digital elevation models. The joint work is being funded by a three-year grant from NASA’s Applied Information Systems Department.