Take a ride around Mars with NASA’s new rover simulator

Out of this world.
Out of this world.
Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Creative Commons
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For space buffs who are chomping at the bit for future tourist trips to Mars, there’s now a virtual way to get a head start.

NASA just launched a new feature that allows users to virtually control the US space agency’s Mars Curiosity rover. So while it may be another 20 years or more before humans reach our closest neighbor, those still here on Earth can at least experience what the Red Planet feels like.

The interactive lets people navigate a simulated version of the rover, guiding the wheeled contraption around an enclosed area from their personal computer. Meanwhile, users can flip through the different camera angles to see different views of the planet. NASA made public the interactive on August 5th, the third anniversary of the Curiosity rover’s real-life landing on the planet.

The simulation is part of the space agency’s preparations for a manned mission to Mars. Along with the rover website, the agency released to the public an online feature that it will use to help select possible candidate sites for the mission. The feature, Mars Trek, allows users to navigate through high-quality satellite images of the planet and accompanying data, similar to the experience of using, say, Google Earth.

Earlier this year, six scientists were chosen by NASA to simulate the experience of living in isolation on the long slog to Mars. In June, following eight months of solitude in a stationary dome atop a remote Hawaiian volcano, the crew finally released themselves. The rover simulation is a taste of what they might have experienced in a flying spaceship, rather than standing still.