Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies

RGCPS – About


RGCPS – A Regional Planetary Information Facility

• A NASA archive and research center

The Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies (RGCPS), at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, is one in a network of 16 Regional Planetary Image Facility (RPIF) data centers, established by NASA to archive planetary images for use by the scientific and educational communities. The facility supports the research of the ASU planetary science faculty, students, and staff, as well as the local and statewide educational communities and the general public.

• Overview of our collection

RGCPS houses images and maps from all major U.S. robotic planetary spacecraft missions, along with an extensive library of mission documentation, scientific journals, and Earth and planetary publications. Aerial photographs of the Earth, airborne radar, and cartographic products (all coverage flight dependent) are also part the facilty’s collection. In addition, users of RGCPS have access to digital data stored on hard drives, and to online catalogs for searching and retrieving image and data set information, via NASA’s Planetary Data System (PDS). The facility also supports the user with work space, computer workstations, light tables, Earth and planetary globes, microfiche viewers, DVDs, and digitized slide archives. Facility staff are available to assist in the use of the collection and equipment.

• Location and Tours

The RGCPS is located at the Tempe campus of ASU, on the fifth floor of the Bateman Physical Sciences Center F-Wing in room PSF-513A. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m, excluding ASU holidays. Additional displays are available for viewing on the 5th floor outside of the Center during normal ASU business hours. Special  exhibits are periodically on display in the ASU Science (Noble) Library. Contact the RGCPS for information on current or upcoming exhibits.

Educational presentations, and/or an overview of current research in RGCPS, can be arranged for schools and other organizations. Please contact the RGCPS office at 480.965.7029, or use one of the references on the RGCPS Contact page for additional information. Due to space restrictions, groups must be limited to 25 people.

Admission to the RGCPS is always free.


RGCPS – The Facility

RGCPS occupies an area of 2250 ft2 on the 5th floor of the PSF-513A. The facility is organized into:

1) a reception area at the entrance, which includes the Librarian’s work station, reference resources, and a RGCPS staff work station

2) a work area containing a conference table, media center, and 5 computer work stations that form the basis of the Planetary Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Laboratory

3) the “stacks” area for journals, books, and other reference materials

4) a storage area & computer server room

5) a “Mission Room” housing research computer stations that are used to support active flight projects and to study non-released scientific data.

In addition to this area, the RGCPS hosts a wet darkroom, located in PSF-543. It is 93 ft2 and includes the laboratory and office for the Senior Phototechnician.

Associated with the facility in PSF-513A, are the ASU wind tunnel (ASUWIT), an atmospheric boundary-layer wind tunnel, and the vortex generator (ASUVG). These instruments are part of the Planetary Aeolian Laboratory (PAL), which are used to conduct research on aeolian processes. The ASUWIT and ASUVG are located in the Urban Systems Engineering Building in the northwest end of ASU campus. There are also two wind tunnel facilities at the NASA-Ames Research Center in California, which are used to simulate the surface pressures on Mars and Titan. The RGCPS collection contains records and data acquired from the research performed using these instruments.

RGCPS – History

The RGCPS began as the Space Photography Laboratory (SPL), established by Dr. Ronald Greeley when he moved from the NASA-Ames Research Center to Arizona State University in 1977. The facility was first housed in the basement of the Bateman Physical Sciences F-Wing and only covered 1050 ft2.

The original SPL collections were based on materials Dr. Greeley obtained as a Planetary Geology Principal Investigator and as a member of the Viking Orbiter science team. These materials included images of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and Earth (of the various areas in which he conducted field studies). SPL was originally organized as a “branch” facility, drawing principally on NASA’s Regional Planetary Image Facility (RPIF) at the U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ.

An Image Processing Facility (IPF) was established as part of the SPL in 1981, adding the capability to work with digital data and to produce high-quality film-recorded images. A photographic darkroom was made part of the planetary facilities to enable hardcopy production for use in research and to maintain the collections of SPL. At this time, the SPL was designated as a full RPIF by NASA to respond to the growing Planetary Geoscience program at ASU.

In the early 1980s, ASU was one of the few universities capable of working with digital planetary images. This capability was important for the recruitment of graduate students to ASU for advanced degrees. The IPF was based on hardware and software adapted from the design used by the U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, through the help and advice of the Astrogeology Branch Chief, Dr. Larry Soderblom. Improvements and upgrades have been made repeatedly in the ensuing years, drawing on advice from the U.S.G.S. and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Currently, state-of-the-art image processing software is available on the computers in our Planetary GIS Laboratory.

In 1989, as part of expansion of the the then Department of Geology facilities and renovation of space in the F-wing, SPL was moved to the fifth floor and expanded to 2250 ft2. As part of the renovation, specialized air-handling equipment was installed to maintain the correct temperature and humidity essential for the preservation of the film and photographic records. This is particularly critical in regard to humidity which can range from extremely dry to very wet through the course of a normal year in southern Arizona. In addition, special UV filters are used with the fluorescent lighting in RGCPS as a deterrent to the degradation of the planetary images caused by normal lighting.

Prof. Ronald Greeley was the Director of the SPL until he passed away in 2011. Assistant Research Professor Dr. David A. Williams is the current director of the facility, which has since been renamed the Ronald Greeley Center for Planetary Studies. The RGCPS is under the administration of the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.


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