Mars On Tracks: NASA’s Unity-Powered Curiosity

By Alec Meer on July 17th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

Why yes, it does look like Johnny 5. Fortunately not accompanied by a white guy pretending to be Indian

That I’ll never get to visit another planet (or moon; hell, I’ll take moon) is one of the great sadnesses of my life. Maybe, if I’m very lucky, Richard Branson will buy RPS and give me a free ride in his spaceship one day, but he’s probably too busy picking up women. So, for now, I must settle with exploring a Unity-powered, browser-based, explorable recreation of Mars, courtesy of NASA.

The plan is to have an as-it-more-or-less-happens recreation of the Curiosity rover’s trek around Mars’ Gale Crater as it searches for signs of long-lost life. Using mapping and data from prior visits to the red planet, it’s a meticulous recreation of Mars’ terrain. Sadly it’s not the highest-end use of Unity (with no settings to fiddle with), but there’s something quite mystical about that swathe of red-brown, endelss desert landscape nonetheless. I really wish my 27″ monitor hadn’t died two days after arriving (with the retailer being out of stock of replacements), as this positively demands as grand a vista as possible despite despite the lo-fi textures and lighting.

Pop-up facts offer handy interplanetary education, and more features will be turned once the Curiosity rover itself reaches Mars 19 days from now. I’ll definitely be checking in to follow its progress. The hunt for signs of alien life, recreated via my graphics card – strange, silent but exciting for sure.

Give it a go, do. For controllable bits, click on ‘Gale Crater’ from the bar at the top. It’s not the most intuitive of interfaces, admittedly, but once you’ve hit that you enter a moveable, first-person perspective.

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21 Comments »

  1. Fuzzball says:

    That is the funniest and most arbitrary tumblr I’ve seen since…the last time I went on tumblr. There’s a lot of weird shit on there.

  2. Salt says:

    I’m a little surprised they haven’t made an interactive thing for the orbit-to-surface transition. There is after all a long history of video games simulating significant moments in NASA landing on things (I love that the genre of a 1973 game is listed as “Retro”).

    I suppose they thought it would be too frustrating or present the wrong image if they created a detailed simulation of the probe repeatedly burning up / crashing / hurtling into deep space. I should check the plugins for Kerbal Space Program, I’m sure someone has thought to make the parts needed to recreate it.

  3. Bhazor says:

    JohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMaddenJohnMadden

  4. Didero says:

    All right, this is both off-topic and possibly nitpicking. I’ll only apologize for the latter, since I’m curious and not trying to correct mistakes.
    In the sentence “Mars’ Gale Crater”, shouldn’t there be an “s” after “Mars’”, just like there’s an “s” after “rover’” in “rover’s trek”? Or is there a rule that says you should leave out that possessive “s” if the word ends on an “s” already?
    Again, sorry for detail-whining, I just want my grammar to be the goodest it can be.

  5. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Solar panels? Thermonuclear power, bitches.

  6. TheFlyingWooly says:

    I share that sadness Alec :(

    Why does Branson pick up soo many women?!

  7. Tom De Roeck says:

    You do know that the Johnny Five creator is making sex robots now, right?

  8. Ernesto says:

    Did they include the 21 minute delay between control input and rover response? Mars is pretty far away, you know….

  9. Saiko Kila says:

    I want my “fire laser!” button. Without it I feel so… defenceless. What if a rock attacks me?

    By the way, I really hope this project (MSL) succeeds, but I wouldn’t make too much hype before the rover preforms a successful touchdown at least.

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