A new art project on Kickstarter offers backers the chance to gain "raised landscapes" of Mars in celebration of the Mariner 9 spacecraft's 50th anniversary.
Called "Marscapes," the project is roughly three-quarters of the way to its goal of $10,000 on Kickstarter, with 29 days to go. The project aims to produce "incredibly realistic reproductions of the Martian terrain based on pictures and topographical data gathered from multiple scientific resources," the Kickstarter page states.
The company behind the initiative — WhiteClouds — plans to combine its custom topography business with a long-standing interest in space. (Several of the company's employees used to work at Space.com, or at our past parent company Purch, the company says.)
Related: A brief history of Mars missions
Mariner 9 made it to the Red Planet on Nov. 14, 1971 to do NASA's first orbital mapping of Mars. To scientists' surprise, the spacecraft arrived in the middle of a dust storm — showing that the planet was not a moon-like quiet desert, as previous flybys hinted. After the regolith subsided, Mariner 9 spotted several volcanoes (including the Arizona-sized Olympus Mons) along with a gigantic gulley system (now called Valles Marineris) that dwarfs the Grand Canyon on Earth.
Jared Page, a former Purch employee who is now vice president of marketing at WhiteClouds, told Space.com that his team has spent eight years creating custom topography models for several clients. One of the brand names it worked with was NASA; past projects included full-color 3D printed models of the Eta Carinae nebula and a collection of "raised relief terrain" models of Earth's moon.
Most of these projects would display at trade shows, which meant that when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, WhiteClouds' business model was "severely impacted," Page said. The company decided to move towards creating products for the general public, he added, and decided to hop on the surge of Mars interest accompanying the 2021 slate of landing missions — such as NASA's Perseverance rover.
"We could have started with state maps, national parks, etc. on Earth, but many employees of WhiteClouds, including the CEO and vice president of marketing, are space enthusiasts," he said. "With the 50th anniversary of the Mariner 9 coming up, and all the recent achievements of technology and imagery relating to Mars, our attention swiftly diverted to Mars as the ideal project to start with."
The imagery for the project includes several subsequent missions to Mariner 9, Page said, although neither he nor the Kickstarter mentions which spacecraft have been used. The photos will use several styles, colors, framings and imagery set to match multiple room setups, he said.
"Seven years of developing different methods of 3D fabrication … brought us to this point," he said. "Our process includes some traditional techniques, some next-generation 3D printing methods, and a lot of experimentation with different materials and mediums. To create one topography, it flows through many different expert hands from 3D modelers, digital artists, 3D printers, mold-makers, painters, finishers, framers, quality control, and so on."
On Kickstarter, the company notes it will need to make "some critical investments in machinery and training to fulfill the campaign; however, these investments will be sufficiently covered by the funding goal we've set." The company also does not anticipate any problems surrounding hardware, lumber packaging or other materials once the campaign is finished.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace