Science

Mars Curiosity rover could be yours - in the form of Lego

By James Maynard , Jun 18, 2013 07:48 PM EDT
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Curiosity, NASA's current Mars rover, will be the next model to be produced by The Lego Group, the company that makes Legos. The new model is roughly 1/20 the size of the real Curiosity rover currently exploring the surface of the red planet. That rover is about the size of a small SUV.

The idea for the model came from Stephen Pakbaz, a mechanical engineer who did some work on the real Curiosity rover, officially known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). Pakbaz built a version of the rover from parts from standard Legos sets. He then entered the idea, using the name Perijove, on Lego's Cuusoo website, where people can submit ideas for new Legos models. The name Cuusoo means "wish" in Japanese. When ideas reach 10,000 votes on the site, they are submitted to the company for consideration. Pakbaz first submitted the idea in November 2011, and it reached the 10,000-vote milestone nine months later.

"We learned that this product has niche appeal and strong demand from the space and education communities. 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," Tim Courtney of the Lego Group wrote on their official blog.

The release date for the Curiosity model is not yet set, but the actual Curiosity rover on Mars is about to head into long-distance driving mode, and trek out for a one-year-long journey that will bring it to the base of Mount Sharp, five miles away from its current position. It remains to be seen whether the first release of the model will come before or after the MSL arrives at the mountain.

Pakbaz also built a model of the descent stage of the craft, which helped slow Curiosity down for landing. Whether that additional part of the craft will be produced or not remains to be seen.

Not everyone is happy with the new model, as Robert Pearlman, writing for Vanity Fair June 17, compared the model to a cockroach wearing a fur coat, among less-flattering characterizations.

"My hope was to have a set produced while the real rover was still active on Mars so that the model could help kids learn about the real rover's discoveries as they occurred," Pakbaz said.

This is not the first Lego model of the Curiosity rover built, however. On December 18, 2012, the Denmark-based company announced the construction of a much-larger version of the Mars rover. That one contained over 8,000 blocks and 20 motors. This new version is the first commercially-viable design of Curiosity.

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