NASA’s newest Mars rover, Curiosity, is just a few weeks away from its nail-biting landing, soaring to the surface and dropping via hovercrane. A new Kinect-based game unveiled today lets you land it yourself, using your own movement to maneuver Curiosity through the landing called “seven minutes of terror.”
The game looks very much like the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s own visualization of Curiosity’s planned descent, which is by far the most complex robotic landing ever attempted, let alone on another planet. It’s a long way from Lunar Lander, in other words.
The Mars Science Laboratory will arrive at Mars on the late evening of Aug. 5 into the early morning of Aug. 6, careening into the atmosphere at 13,000 MPH. During the descent, it will shed its heat shield and deploy a parachute capable of surviving supersonic speeds. Once it’s about 500 feet above the surface, the fun begins — rocket engines fire up to slow it down, gently lowering the Curiosity rover onto the surface. Once its wheels touch the ground, the hovercraft snips its umbilical cord and flies away to a crash landing.
In the Kinect version of this terrifying descent, you have to move your hands, arms and torso to control the rover’s speed, angle of descent and more. It’s tricky to get all the parameters right, according to Jeff Norris, manager of planning and execution systems at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. If you think it’s hard, just remember: The rover will do this all on its own.
Download the game here for free. And stay tuned for PopSci’s coverage of the real thing!