Randolph L Kirk

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

  • NASA's Mars 2020 rover Perseverance is on its way to a landing site mapped by the Astrogeology Science Center.  Eight previous Mars landers/rovers have gone to sites we mapped, and all have landed successfully.  (Of more than 10 Mars landings attempted without USGS mapping, none have succeeded so far.)  Perseverance also carries our maps onboard for use in final landing guidance, 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 resoltiion and precision of digital topographic models obtained under real-world (Mars) conditions.


  • 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, November 1996–October 2000
  • Member, NASA Planetary Cartography/Geologic Mapping Working Group January 1993–August 1998

Professional Societies

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Astronomical Society, Division of Planetary Science
  • American Geophysical Union
  • American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
  • International Astronomical Union
  • Sigma Xi

Honors and Awards

  • NASA Group Achievement Award for Cassini RADAR Science & Engineering Team, 2018
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for MSL Science Office Development and Ops Team, 2014
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for MRO HiRISE Science Team, 2011
  • 3rd place, first annual BAE Systems “eXtreme Analyst Cup” challenge, 2010
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for Cassini RADAR Science Team, 2009
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for Mars Exploration Rovers Extended Missions, 2008
  • ISPRS John J. Davidson President's Award for Practical Papers, 1st place, 2006
  • USGS STAR Award for participation in Mars Exploration Rovers mission, 2004
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for Mars Exploration Rovers Science Operations Team, 2004
  • USGS STAR Award for exceptional contributions in planetary cartography/photogrammetry, 2003
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for NEAR Shoemaker Mission Team, 2002
  • USGS STAR Award for Mars Polar Lander landing site studies, 1999
  • NASA Honor Award for Imager for Mars Pathfinder Operations Team, 1998
  • USGS Superior Service Award, 1994
  • NASA Group Achievement Award for Magellan Radar Scientists, 1992
  • Icarus  Editor’s Letter of Commendation for reviewing, 1990, 1995
  • USGS Special Act Service Award for participation in Voyager 2 Neptune encounter, 1990
  • Phi Beta Kappa, 1981


  • Provided the topographic data used to create dozens of "flyover" videos and numerous perspective views visualizing the results of planetary exploration missions from Venus to Neptune


  • More than 200 first- and co-authored papers
  • More than 480 abstracts

Invited Presentations

  • Exploring Europa with EIS — The Europa Imaging System, ISPRS Geospatial Week, Enschede, Netherlands, June 2019.
  • From Planetary Cartography to Planetary Spatial Data Infrastructure, Planetary Remote Sensing and Mapping 2017 Conference, Hong Kong, August 2017.
  • Planetary Cartography:  What, How, and Why Begin With Where, XLVIIth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, TX, March 2016.
  • High Level Products and Cartographic Research, Second Planetary Data Workshop, Flagstaff, AZ, June 2015.
  • Why You’re “Lost in Space” Without High Level Cartographic Products, XLIVth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, The Woodlands, TX, March 2013.
  • Titan’s Topography as a Clue to Geologic Processes and Landscape Evolution, AGU, San Francisco, December 2012.
  • High Level “Science Ready” Products, Planetary Data: A Workshop for Users and Developers, Flagstaff, AZ, June 2012.
  • La Sotra y los otros:  Topographic evidence for (and against) cryovolcanism on Titan, AGU, San Francisco, December 2010.
  • Three-Dimensional Views of Titan’s Surface from Cassini RADAR Stereogrammetry, European Geophysical Union General Assembly, Vienna, April 2009.
  • Cartography for lunar exploration:  2008 status mission plans, and processing requirements, DLR, Berlin, September 2008.
  • Cartography for Lunar Exploration:  2008 Status and Mission Plans, XXIst Congress of ISPRS, Beijing, 2008.
  • Topography of Titan from Cassini RADAR stereo data, AGU, San Francisco, December 2007.
  • Planetary Cartography at the USGS:  Mapping the Red Planets, Technical University of Berlin, November 2007.
  • Cartography for Lunar Exploration:  Current Status and Planned Missions, XXIIIrd International Cartographic Congress, Moscow, 2007.
  • Cartography for Lunar Exploration:  2006 Status and Planned Missions, ISPRS Commission IV Symposium, Goa, 2006.
  • What is Planetary Cartography and Why Does it Matter?, XXXVIIth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, 2006.
  • Cassini Radar Observations of Titan: Passes Ta and T3, and USGS Topomapping with Mars Express HRSC and SRC Images, 2nd Annual Asia Oceanic Geosciences Society Conference, Singapore, 2005.
  • Cassini RADAR's First Look at Titan, XXXVIth Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Houston, 2005.
  • USGS high resolution topomapping of Mars with Mars Orbiter Camera Narrow-Angle images, invited for Plenary Session of ISPRS Commission IV Symposium, Ottawa, 2002.
  • Recent Planetary Topographic Mapping at the USGS, Flagstaff:  Moon, Mars, Venus, and Beyond, XIXth Congress of ISPRS, Amsterdam, 2000
  • Complexities of modeling the martian surface in three dimensions, Planetary Science Summer School, Pasadena, 1998
  • High resolution topographic measurements from Magellan, AAPG annual meeting, Calgary, 1992
  • Plumes of Triton, Conference on Neptune and Triton, Tucson, 1992
  • The Cassini Titan Radar Mapper, European Geophysical Society annual meeting, Wiesbaden, 1991
  • 29th Annual Emmons Lecture of the Colorado Scientific Society, 1990