I am a certified Mars Rover pilot, and you can be too.
(Thanks to Mission To Mars 3D, anyway)
Chances are, if I polled 100 people on whether they’d like to command a space mission to Mars, or pilot a six-wheeled rover as if it were the universe’s most advanced remote-controlled vehicle (I mean, it has a nuclear power source, for cryin’ out loud), 99 of them would say HELL YES. I don’t know what the other person would be thinking, honestly.
Well, you can do that now. Thanks to a collaboration between the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and Mozilla’s Ignite competition, you can simulate a future trip to the red planet inside your browser with the Mission to Mars 3D Experiment.
This educational game/tool challenges you to plan and carry out two missions off the bat. First, you devise a rocket launch scheme to send an emergency resupply payload to a science colony on Mars, using a planetary orbit simulator. After you master “the slingshot”, you pilot a Mars Curiosity rover clone, using its onboard instruments to locate a good spot to drop a greenhouse module. I decided to launch my mission using the private SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, and had it arrive at Mars on my birthday … in 2038.
I’ll be old, but what a birthday present, eh?
The folks behind the project told me that the 3D platform is completely open source (their GitHub page) and missions can be remixed, but I haven’t played with that part yet. Teachers will enjoy the educational resources attached, because face it, this beats the physics lesson you had planned this week.
Oh yeah … and this is especially appropriate since India just launched a Mars mission today, and it was beautiful (more info on that from Emily Lakdawalla at The Planetary Society):