Mapping Mars, Open Source Style

Carl Franzen | TPM | October 5, 2012

While Apple is still sorting out its own maps disaster here on Earth, others are busy mapping the worlds beyond. Take NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover, which on Wednesday posted the first interplanetary “check-in” on Foursquare, the popular geolocation social website. The rover’s check-in would not have been possible without a beautiful, accurate digital map of the Red Planet created as a side project in just a week by someone outside of both Foursquare and NASA.

Chris Herwig, a data analyst at digital mapping company Mapbox, told TPM in an email that he was inspired to create his map of Mars on the weekend of August 4, a few days before NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover actually nailed its perilous landing. “Over the weekend around the launch I started looking into what data there was,” Herwig explained. “I had a pretty basic question in mind when I started: ‘What did Mars actually look like?’

Herwig’s resulting map does much to answer his original question: Created in a week using entirely open-source tools, including MapBox’s own TileMill map design software with public data of the surface of Mars provided by NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the International Astronomical Union, the map, available online here, shows not only the various named geologic features of Mars, but also all of the lander missions successfully sent to Red Planet by the U.S. and Russia since 1971...