Call for maps: Mars Exploration Zone Map Design Competition

Update: Results will be posted early next week (first second week of October).

International call for mapping candidate 2030s human landing sites on Mars.


What kind of map is needed to best aid human explorers of Mars? Design Exploration Zone maps and participate in planning the first human mission to Mars.

This call is open to students, cartographers, and graphic artists from all countries.


The 2030s is the target decade for the first human visit to Mars as planned by NASA. In 2015, 47 landing sites or Exploration Zones (EZ), each 200 km in diameter, have been proposed by the planetary science community. These should be mapped in high detail in the forthcoming years to enable proper comparison of the 47 sites and the selection of the 1 finalist.

This contest is open to students, young professional cartographers, and graphic artists in any country of the world.

The project is to select one candidate landing site and design an actual map that You envision will be useful in surface operations. We ask that You do not create simply a geologic map, but rather a product that can be used by the astronauts during their approximately one-year long mission within the Exploration Zone. This requires creativity, and it is also useful to have a good knowledge of surface features, surface hazards, science goals and the use of the proper cartographic tools.

The display and format of the maps, and the  entirely up to the participants.

All submitted maps must be accompanied by a short paper (in the English language).

The contest is part of the International Map Year activities.


Winning maps from each division will receive the following prizes:

Middle or High School Students:

The winners (1st, 2nd, 3rd prize and honorable mentions) get a certificate, and their maps will be sent to the principal investigators of their chosen Exploration Zone. Winners in this category will also receive global planetary geologic maps or children’s planetary maps (of their choice). The papers of the winners will be considered for publication at the 2017 International Cartographic Conference. In this category we encourage collaboration; there is no limit to how many participants are in a middle or high school student group.

University students and Young Professionals (age limit: 18-35 years old, Cartographers or Graphic Artists):

The winner (1st prize) of this category will be invited to the 2017 International Cartographic Conference (July 2-7, 2017) where their costs, including travel to the conference, will be covered. The winner will receive their award at a Washington, DC ceremony. Note that VISA may be required for foreign nationals to enter the USA. 

The award winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes) get a certificate, their maps will be sent to the principal investigators of their chosen Exploration Zone. The winner of the 1st prize must submit his or her paper to ICC2017 and it must be accepted in order to be eligible for participation in the conference. All awardees are encouraged to submit their papers.

UPDATE (5/2/16): Citizen Scientist. (no age limit). The winners (1st, 2nd, 3rd prize and honorable mentions) get a certificate, and their maps will be sent to the principal investigators of their chosen Exploration Zone. Winners in this category will also receive a global planetary geologic map. The papers of the winners will be considered for publication at the 2017 International Cartographic Conference.

The jury will be composed of NASA scientists investigating the surface of Mars.

All winning works will be included in our project website and will be made available for planetary researchers. The principal investigators may invite the winners for further collaboration. The maps may also be included in NASA’s Mars Trek Map.


Important dates

September 1, 2016– Deadline of submission of maps and papers. Submission can be electronic or paper (paper submissions must arrive at NASA Ames Center in California no later than September 15, 2016).

October 1, 2016 – Notification of winners of this competition

October 26, 2016  – Submission of Abstract and Papers to ICC2017 (open to all award winners)

January 10, 2017 – Notification of acceptance of the papers

January 31, 2017 – Submission of Final Manuscripts to ICC2017

February 16, 2017 – Conference Registration for Presenters/Authors

April 2017 – 2nd NASA Workshop for Landing Sites for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars

July 2–7, 2017 ICC 2017


Where shall I land? May be here?


Digital format: send digital files to

Paper format (by mail):

Send to:

Henrik I Hargitai
NASA Ames Research Center
MS 239-20
Moffett Field, CA 94035

Submissions should include the followings:

  • Name(s) of map authors,
  • Category (Middle/High School Student; University Student or Young Professional)
  • Corresponding mailing address,
  • Corresponding email address,
  • Your age or the ages of your group members
  • Affiliation(s)  (school or workplace),
  • The map,
  • The short paper (description of the map, and its production process).
    • Length:
      • 2-3 pages (A4 or Letter) for the middle to high school student group
      • 6-8 pages (A4 or Letter) for the university student/young professional group,
      • with small figures and references
    • This paper may be changed later for the Conference submission but is absolutely required in the competition.

Complete maps copied directly without alteration from existing works will be considered plagiarisms and will be excluded from the contest. 

There is no fee for submitting entries.


Background information

What are Exploration Zones (EZs)?

The regions where humans will live and make field work are called Exploration Zones. These are 200 km diameter areas that are safe to land and work in, and have several sites of scientific interest. 45 such EZs were proposed by the planetary community.

What is your task?

We call students, professional cartographers, and graphic artists to map one of the EZs, or a part of it. These candidate EZs have not been mapped in detail, this work begins now, in 2016. Mapping and studying them will help NASA to choose the landing site of the first human expedition to Mars.  While scientists map the surface to study its geology, the applicants should map it from the perspective of the astronauts. Our goal is to develop maps that could ultimately be used by the astronauts during their daily field works.

Technology can change a lot between now and the 2030s. The field maps will most likely be digital dynamic maps, shown on display, VR glasses, projected onto the helmet or made visible by a yet-to-discover technology. We can’t know the future mapping technology so what we ask is to make a map that you would find it useful to orient yourself in the chosen EZ, document future plans and already visited sites, mark the locations of the landmarks and habitat units.

What should be on the map?

The map may contain a complete EZ, or just a part of it for more detailed exploration. You chose the actual design of the map.

Background information for the mission during which the map will be used:

Here is what you have to know for a successful map design.

  • The surface of Mars is more dangerous to humans than being in space.
  • Sites that are relatively free of dust, boulders, and steep slopes will improve both safety and operability
  • The human mission will be preceded by robotic cargo missions which will prepare the site and make precursor investigations.
  • Humans will arrive in crews of 4, spending 300-500 sols on the surface, and then returning to Earth. Multiple crews will visit the same EZs, so a ROI  (region of interest) can be revisited several times, separated by 100s of sols (Mars days).
  • Astronauts on the surface (“proximal humans”) will work together with autonomous robots and humans in orbit. Telepresence operations: Robots may continue exploration at one location after humans left that site and teleoperated robots may be sent for explorations. Robots will do repetitive, precision, and hazardous tasks and sterilized robots will work in protected environments that humans could contaminate. Humans will make field observations, sampling, and lab work, and many other scientific tasks.


What were the criteria of EZ selection?

This is how the EZs had been selected:

  • EZ engineering criteria: The EZs are between +-50° latitudes (lower latitudes require less propellant to reach orbit and have less extreme climate variations), they are at less than +2 km altitude, has a 25 km2 flat (mostly <10° slope) area where it is safe to land (no rough terrain (close craters, mountains) or loose surface material (sand or dust)) is present).
  • One EZ contains several ROIs (region of interest) that should be indicated in the EZ map. These ROIs are:
    • Science ROIs (SROI): we go there to study these rocks and sediments. It’s good if these sites are (1) Actively forming / changing today, (2) erosion is actively exposing very old materials that may have trapped bubbles from the ancient atmosphere, (3) the formation of the surface material involved water (sediments of rivers, lakes, or glaciers), and (4 – life) may have preserved fossilized lifeforms, or may be a refuge for present life, or shows complex chemistry, and (5 – diversity) there are very different science ROIs within 100 km from the hab (the center of the EZ). The EVAs would be executed in traverses that (past and planned; robotic and human) should be shown on the maps.
    • Resource ROIs (RROI): these are raw materials for building and mining water locally (ISRU – in situ resource utilization).
      • Water is needed for CH4/liquid oxygen fuel, shielding, cooling, construction, life support, and farming. Water resource ROI should max. 3 km distance from the hab, in a flat terrain, at max. 3 m below the surface. Candidate sites for getting water are: surface or shallow subsurface ice, recurring slope lineae, hydrated minerals, glaciers, hydrated dunes, and also atmospheric H2O. The more types of water feedstock an EZ has the better. 20,000 liter (20 MT = metric ton) water / crew should be available.
      • For construction (road, berm), and radiation protection, a site less than 5 km from the habitat should have both cobble sized (6-25 cm) rocks, loose regolith (soil); and material that contains iron, aluminum and silicon ready to be mined by automated systems. Mining should be done by robots.
    • Landing and Habitation zone (field station, HZ): It should be at the center of the EZ. It includes the followings:
      • habitat,
      • greenhouse for farming. Plants are grown either hydroponically under artificial light or in local regolith using natural lighting. Peaks casting shadows are preferably avoided. Food production is best supported by local water source and fresh (therefore nutrient-rich) basaltic sands.
      • power zone (for nuclear power plant), and
      • LS: multiple landing/launching sites within few km of the hab.
    • Two pressurized rovers, powered by nuclear systems. The rovers will be capable of giving support to a crew of 2 for max. 14 days, traveling 200 km.
    • Two unpressurized rovers to travel 15 km radial distance.
  • Special Regions (SR) should be determined. These are areas where terrestrial microorganisms are capable of replicating. These regions should be avoided by humans but can be studied by sterilized robots.
  • The EZs to be mapped have been chosen because they meet most of the above criteria.


How to start?


  • You may download JMARS 2035 to see the locations of EZs, and see thematic layers of available resources, surface features, surface geology etc. Human landing site related content is under the menu “Human Exploration” (Add new layer -> Select Category: Human Exploration).
  • or 5 m/pixel resolution photomosaic, You may use Google Earth’s Mars module.
  • For even higher resolution images, download or view individual HiRISE images available through the HiRISE website, JMARS2035 and Google Earth’s Mars module.  You need to be online in order to use JMARS2035 and Google Earth.
  • You can also view feature maps here and learn about features here. 


Some tips for map content

  • ROIs
    • If a unit is not defined, define it (You may map only one unit or a part of it, or all). Units include:
      • Primary and secondary landing site
      • Habitat, Power Plant, Greenhouse
      • Parking (4 rovers)
      • “paved” (leveled) and “unpaved” Roads
      • outlines of SROIs (geology, life), RROIs (water/construction materials/metals), SRs

You may add:

  • Planned geotraverses (max. 15 sols long), showing stops with science goals, human and robotic traverses (robotic for special regions where surface water may exist). The traverse should avoid large blocks, and places where terrain features make radio shadow not permitting communication between the hab and the rover.
  • Hazard zones (steep slopes)
  • Special regions (only for robots)
  • Landforms, terrain types (morphology), indicating if they are targets
  • Inferred geologic processes (erosional or depositional surfaces)


Comments or questions? Send an email to

Henrik Hargitai, ICA Commission on Planetary Cartography, NASA ARC/NPP





Also Recommended

Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group

Human Landing Sites Study for Human Missions to the Surface of Mars –  HLS2 lectures and birefings


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