The Mars Descent Imager, or MARDI, experiment on the Mars Polar Lander (MPL) consists of a camera characterized by small physical size and mass (???6 ?? 6 ?? 12 cm, including baffle; <500 gm), low power requirements (<2.5 W, including power supply losses), and high science performance (1000 x 1000 pixel, low noise). The intent of the investigation is to acquire nested images over a range of resolutions, from 8 m/pixel to better than 1 cm/pixel, during the roughly 2 min it takes the MPL to descend from 8 km to the surface under parachute and rocket-powered deceleration. Observational goals will include studies of (1) surface morphology (e.g., nature and distribution of landforms indicating past and present environmental processes); (2) local and regional geography (e.g., context for other lander instruments: precise location, detailed local relief); and (3) relationships to features seen in orbiter data. To accomplish these goals, MARDI will collect three types of images. Four small images (256 x 256 pixels) will be acquired on 0.5 s centers beginning 0.3 s before MPL's heatshield is jettisoned. Sixteen full-frame images (1024 X 1024, circularly edited) will be acquired on 5.3 s centers thereafter. Just after backshell jettison but prior to the start of powered descent, a "best final nonpowered descent image" will be acquired. Five seconds after the start of powered descent, the camera will begin acquiring images on 4 s centers. Storage for as many as ten 800 x 800 pixel images is available during terminal descent. A number of spacecraft factors are likely to impact the quality of MARDI images, including substantial motion blur resulting from large rates of attitude variation during parachute descent and substantial rocket-engine-induced vibration during powered descent. In addition, the mounting location of the camera places the exhaust plume of the hydrazine engines prominently in the field of view. Copyright 2001 by the American Geophysical Union.