The slightly frustrating yet addictive Mars Rover game released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s creative team last weekend is a cute way to mark Curiosity’s 4th Earth-year on the Red Planet.
“One crater crash, and it’s ‘game over’ for your rover!” reads the blurb on the official page, which also takes the opportunity to share some trivia on how Curiosity actually gets around the surface of Mars, since there are notable differences between the game version and the real thing (for example, the rover only rolls along at two inches per second, rather than the blistering speeds that challenge you in the game).
The deceptively simple game lets you pilot a Mars rover with the help of four directional buttons, but don’t be fooled - as soon as you get overconfident in your driving skills you will wreck the rover on a crater, and the game will play a heartbreaking crash sound that would be every space engineer’s nightmare.
The goal of the game is, of course, to gather as many points as you can while scanning for subsurface water deposits - a task that will actually be handed to NASA’s next Mars rover due to launch in 2020.
The ‘Mars 2020 Rover’, as it’s currently known, will address “high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars.”
One of the tools it will carry is RIMFAX (Radar Imager for Mars' Subsurface Experiment), a ground-penetrating radar that, for the first time, will be able to provide a detailed look at the underground structures of the Martian surface. Researchers expect to detect not just liquid water, but also ice and layers of sediment. “This information helps pinpoint areas for deeper study by instruments on the rover that search for chemical, mineral, and structural signs of past microbial life,” states NASA.
While RIMFAX is the only tool you get to try out in the game, the 2020 rover will also carry other fascinating instruments, such as MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment), whose main job will be to take a shot at producing oxygen from the 96% carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars. As you can guess, this would be useful for human explorers as a way to locally produce breathable air.
The cute little Mars Rover game is available on desktop, and within the app called Gamee for Android and iOS users. You will need to create an account to play in the app, but the game is totally free either way. There goes your productivity.
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