The project science group of the Mars Science Lab Curiosity is calling the mountain inside Gale Crater: ‘Mount Sharp’ .
This informal naming pays tribute to geologist Robert P. Sharp (1911-2004), whom most of them have known and who has formed the thinking of many in the field of planetary science.
Robert Sharp was a founder of planetary science, an influential teacher of many current leaders in the field, and a team member for NASA’s early Mars missions. In the field of geological and planetary sciences Sharp was a central figure at Caltech for over 50 years.
One of his major contributions was the building of a program in planetary sciences firmly rooted in the principles and approaches of the geological sciences.
Also Sharp had much influence on planetary exploration at JPL due to his own work on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s early missions to Mars.
Naming the mountain after Robert Sharp therefore seemed like a highly fitting thing to do.
Mount Sharp rises about 5 kilometers (3 miles) above the landing target on the crater floor, higher than Mount Rainier above Seattle, though broader and closer. It is not simply a rebound peak from the asteroid impact that excavated Gale Crater. A rebound peak may be at its core, but the mountain displays hundreds of flat-lying geological layers that may be read as chapters in a more complex history billions of years old.
Twice as tall as the sequence of colorful bands exposed in Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the stack of layers in Mount Sharp results from changing environments in which layers are deposited, younger on top of older, eon after eon, and then partially eroded away.
The landing site of the Pathfinder (1997) was named after Carl Sagan: Sagan Station.
Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, and astrophysicist. As scientist Sagan contributed much to the spreading of science under the general population with his popular science books, but mostly through his award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote. Cosmos was televised in the eighties and Sagan is still viewed as the world’s greatest popularizer of science, reaching millions of people with his explanation of the workings of the universe.
“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”
– Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan next to a mock up of the Viking lander (1976)
When the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit landed in Gusev crater the 7 crew members of the Space Shuttle Columbia that never made it back to Earth were honoured by labelling the hill range viewable for the landing site of Spirit: Columbia Hills, naming each hill for one specific crewmember.
During her 7 years on Mars Spirit climbed to the top of Husband Hill. It reached the summig on August 22, 2005 and began its descent on September 2005, after examining the hill and the views over the plain of Gusev Crater. Husband hill is named after Rick D. Husband, the commander of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Husband Hill rises about 107 m above surrounding plains.