Somehow breaking away from my Olympics frenzy, I managed to watch some news coverage of the rover Curiosity landing on Mars last week. The Curiosity has already started capturing panoramic images of Mars, in color, as it begins its investigation of Mars’ history — namely, why Mars is no longer a warm, wet planet. It will also dig up soil in hopes of discovering the building blocks of life.
But NASA has landed more than the rover: they’ve also landed a deal with Microsoft Xbox Kinect to launch Mars Rover Landing, a free game available from Xbox Live. (I know, I know, it’s been around since last month. I’m behind the times.)
As you can probably guess, the aim of the game is to successfully land the rover on Mars. As with the real Mars rover landing, all sorts of things can go wrong. It’s your job to slow down and stay on target during entry, then deploy the parachute and separate the heat shield. In the final phase of the game, you have to carefully maneuver the rover to touchdown on Mars’ surface — without running out of fuel and crashing, of course.
All of this in-game navigation requires you to subtly move your body to steer — no sudden moves. (Scratch itches in advance.) For a few minutes, you are the Mars rover. If you’re like me and can’t dance, the tiny, awkward gyrations that this game forces you to do may feel like second nature. But it’s a tricky game that requires a lot of concentration and patience. After you land (or quite probably crash), you’ll definitely want to shake it out like an Olympic swimmer.
Whether you love or hate this little game, it teaches something about how difficult it was for NASA to land the real Curiosity rover on Mars. The fact that the Curiosity touched down without any snafus — a perfect 7-minute landing — is a triumph.