Curiosity, the biggest of all Mars rovers, will be setting down on the planet on Monday, August 6, at 1:31 AM EDT. And a free game from NASA and Microsoft lets you take a crack at landing the rover any time you like.
The nuclear-powered craft will spend at least two Earth years exploring the Gale Crater, seeking evidence of whether Mars is or once was habitable for primitive life. That includes scaling the three-mile-high Mount Sharp in the center of the crater.
The Curiosity rover will use a rocket-powered sky crane, which will hover over the landing site and then lower the one-ton vehicle down to the proper space. It's the most daring landing NASA has attempted. To help celebrate this monumental occasion, Microsoft has teamed up with NASA to provide "Mars Rover Landing" for Xbox 360 Kinect.
Released late last month on Xbox Live Marketplace, the game requires you to place Curiosity in just the right spot, lest the $2.5 billion project go to waste. However, instead of making the situation stressful, Microsoft has converted it into an enjoyable arcade experience using its motion-sensing Kinect device.
In the game, users will lean and twist their arms to get the positioning of the sky crane just right as Curiosity is lowered to the surface. You'll activate thrusters to carefully descend onto the surface, but don't overdo it, as you'll have only a certain amount of fuel.
An on-screen indicator system shows you a landing point, and you must use utmost precision – or at least get "close enough" — to win the round. It's essentially a modernized version of Atari's classic arcade game "Lunar Lander," but using body motions rather than a lever.
The game is bound to be a hit with space geeks and casual players alike. It's definitely a lot of fun – even if you don't "nail" the landing the first time. Luckily, you won't have to foot the bill if it doesn't go just right.
"Mars Rover Landing" is available for download on Xbox Live Marketplace. Better still, Microsoft is offering it free of charge: all you need is 496 MB of hard drive space to install it. That's a small price to pay compared to NASA's $2.5 billion.
To appreciate the ambition of the landing, check out NASA's animated conception in this video "Curiosity's Seven Minute of Terror."