Mars Sites Named In Honor Of Bruce Murray
November 14, 2013

Mars Rover Names New Sites In Honor Of NASA Legend Bruce Murray

[ Watch the Video: Curiosity’s Path to Mount Sharp ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

NASA has named two significant landscape features observed by its Mars rovers "Murray Ridge" and "Murray Buttes," in honor of the late planetary scientist Bruce Murray.

"Bruce Murray contributed both scientific insight and leadership that laid the groundwork for interplanetary missions such as robotic missions to Mars, including the Mars rovers, part of America's inspirational accomplishments,” said Fuk Li, a NASA Mars Exploration program manager. “It is fitting that the rover teams have chosen his name for significant landmarks on their expeditions.”

Best known for formulating the geological history of Mars based on photographs taken by Mariner 4 in 1965, Murray was a former director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

After his stint as JPL director from 1976 to 1982, Murray became a teaching and research professor at the California Institute of Technology. While working at Caltech, Murray co-founded the Planetary Society in 1980. He died at his home in Oceanside, California on August 29, 2013 at the age of 81 due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which has been operating on Mars for nearly a decade, has been examining sites within the 14-mile-wide Endeavor crater for the past two years. The western edge of the crater, informally dubbed Murray Ridge, is an uplifted portion of the rim that rises to about 130 feet above the surrounding Martian plain.

"Murray Ridge is the highest hill we've ever tried to climb with Opportunity," said Steve Squyres, the mission's principal investigator and an astronomy professor at Cornell University.

The Opportunity rover is positioned at the rim to investigate clay mineral deposits seen from orbit and also to take advantage of a favorable slope for the rover's solar panels during the Martian winter.

"Bruce Murray is best known for having been the director of JPL, and JPL is where our rovers were built," Squyres said. "He led JPL during a time when the planetary exploration budget was under pressure and the future for planetary missions was not clear. His leadership brought us through that period with a strong exploration program. He was also a towering figure in Mars research. His papers are still cited abundantly today."

Meanwhile, the Curiosity rover is currently driving to the base of the 3-mile-high Mount Sharp. A group of small, steep-sided bluffs – which the NASA team dubbed Murray Buttes – sit at the base of the mountain. The knobby outcroppings rest in a space between dark sand dunes at the foot of the mountain. Because deep sand is hazardous for the rover, NASA plans to use this gap in the dunes as an access route to the mountain.

"We'll be going right by these buttes when we shoot the gap in the dunes," said Ken Herkenhoff, a member of the Curiosity team and an astrogeologist at the US Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Arizona. "It will be a visually intriguing area for both the science team and the public. I think it will look like a miniature version of Monument Valley in Utah."

"Bruce Murray was a sedimentologist, so the sedimentary rocks we expect to see at Murray Buttes would have been especially interesting for him. He would have loved this,” he added.