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Randolph L Kirk, Ph.D.

Randolph Kirk’s research interests span both geoscience and mapping of planetary bodies. He has participated in many missions to the Moon, Venus, Mars, asteroids, comets, and icy satellites. He helped direct planetary mapping at the USGS since the early 1990s, and has developed practical methods for topomapping by shape from shading and by adapting commercial stereo workstations to planetary use.

Recent Accomplishments

  • In 2020, NASA's Mars 2020 rover Perseverance  landed in Jezero crater at a site mapped by the Astrogeology Science Center. Perseverence was the ninth Mars lander or rover to go to a site we mapped, all of which landed successfully.  (Starting in 1962, 10 Mars landings attempted without USGS mapping failed for a variety of reasons. Just days before Perseverence the Chinese landerTianwen-1 became the first such mission to succeed.)  Perseverance also carried our maps onboard and used them to guide its final descent, a technological first.
  • We are helping to design and caibrate the Europa Imaging System (EIS) cameras for NASA's Europa Clipper mission and to develop software and procedures for making controlled image and topographic maps.  As part of this task, we invented and demonstrated a new technique for correcting distortions in frame images that are read out line-by-line so that they can be used for precision mapping.
  • We have used stereo images of Mars obtained by different cameras with pixel scales differing up to 50x to assess the resolution and precision of digital topographic models obtained under real-world (Mars) conditions.  We are currently using similar techniques with images of Earth’s Moon to quantify how topographic models can be improved by photoclinometry (shape from shading) techniques using one or multiple images.


  • Ph.D., Planetary Science, Minor in Physics, California Institute of Technology, January 1987
  • M.S., Planetary Science, California Institute of Technology, June 1984
  • B.S., Physics, Stanford University, June 1981

Space Mission Participation

  • Member, Europa Imaging System Science Team, May 2015–Present
  • Member, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter CaSSIS Science Team, August 2010–Present
  • Member, LRO and Chandrayaan-1 Mini-RF Science Teams, July 2006–Present
  • Member, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE Science Team, December 2001–Present
  • Member, Mars Exploration Rovers Science Team, August 2000–June 2018
  • Associate, Deep Space 1 MICAS Science Team, March 2000–December 2002
  • Participating Scientist, NEAR MSI/NIS Team, August 1999–July 2001
  • Associate, Imager for Mars Pathfinder Science Team,  July 1996–August 1998
  • Member, Mars Express HRSC Science Team, January 2000–March 2020
  • Associate, Mars 96 HRSC/WAOSS Science Team, March 1993–December 1996
  • Member, Cassini RADAR Instrument Team, December 1990–September 2018
  • Magellan Guest Investigator, October 1990–September 1994
  • Associate, Voyager Imaging Science Team, 1989

Working Groups

  • Member, IAU Working Group on Cartographic Coords & Rotational Elements, August 2012–present
  • Member, NASA Lunar Geodesy/Cartography Working Group, December 2007–present
  • Member, NASA Mars Geodesy/Cartography Working Group, June 1998–present
  • Member, ISPRS Working Group “Planetary Mapping & Remote Sensing”, November 1996–present
  •      Chair, November 2000-October 2004, Co-Chair, Nove