June 19, 2013
Life, Or Rather LEGO, On Mars
Man hasn’t walked on the surface of Mars, at least not yet, but since 1976 there have been attempts to explore the surface of the Red Planet via rovers. NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has been rolling across the planet for almost a year. Since it touched down at Gale Crater on August 5, 2012, near the planet’s equator it has had a few adventures along the way and has drilled into ancient Martian rock in an effort to determine if Mars would have been hospitable to microbial life.
The sister rover Opportunity recently examined some rocks with unique composition as well.
These efforts by Curiosity were recently rewarded. Last month the National Aeronautic Association presented its Robert J. Collier Trophy to the Mars Science Laboratory Team of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at an event in Arlington, VA.
However, an even bigger honor might be that Curiosity will soon be rolling across desks and floors – at least in the guise of a LEGO creation. It was announced last week that Denmark-based LEGO Group chose a fan-built model of the car-sized rover to be the next released in the CUUSOO line of building sets.
The real Curiosity rover is the size of a small SUV and is more than seven feet tall and weighs almost 2000 pounds. It utilizes scoops, cameras, drills and a powerful rock-vaporizing infrared laser and carries 165 pounds of scientific equipment and instruments to perform a variety of tests.
The LEGO version will be made of plastic, considerable smaller and its laser won’t do much except look really cool!
“We learned that this product has niche appeal and strong demand from the space and education communities,” said LEGO’s Tim Courtney in a blog posted to the company’s website. “The product aligns well with the LEGO Group’s mission to ‘inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow,’ including those who will build our future in outer space.”
While there will be no working laser, the model version of the Rover will feature a working rocker-bogie suspension system that – just like the real one – allows the rover to climb over large rocks and keep all six of its wheels on the ground. In addition the LEGO version will feature fully articulated arm and deployable mast.
“The suspension system on this model works the same way as the real one, with an offset differential mechanism. It has proven to be very robust and fun to play with when handled by children and adults alike,” Stephen Pakbaz noted in the same blog post on the CUUSO site.
While the LEGO kit is coming soon, a LEGO Digital Designer Model and step-by-step .pdf instructions of the Curiosity rover are now freely available for would-be NASA engineers, enthusiasts and educators. These instructions will allow those to build the rover with their own pieces.
So far actual kits have been sent to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Pakabaz added that additional kits have been sent to the Scienceworks at Museum Victoria in Australia, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Mars Public Engagement Office, and The Planetary Society. One kit was also donated to the Charity Auction at the 2012 Brickfair LEGO fan convention in Virginia. The final kit has gone to the Solar System Ambassadors Program.
Image Credit: Perijove