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The NASA rover "Curiosity" is expected to land on the surface of Mars at 10:31 p.m. PDT on August 5th. Years of research and millions of dollars have been spent on a feat of astrophysical engineering that takes about seven minutes, roughly how long it takes the Rover to get from the top of Mars' atmosphere to the ground. To demonstrate the intensity and complexity of the process, NASA and Microsoft teamed up to put a Kinect game out for free on the Xbox 360 called "Mars Rover Landing." You can play it right now, though fortunately your failed attempts will not jeopardize the NASA budget further.
To play, you use your body to simulate the different challenges of the entry, decent and landing (also known as EDL). You play through phases that have you moving and balancing to line up trajectories, moving your arm to the appropriate area on the screen quickly to deploy the parachute and subsequently line up the Sky Crane landing.
In the seven minutes it takes to land, the craft will go from 13,000 MPH to 0 when touching down to prevent damage to the rover. Unfortunately, the massive entry speed is not your only obstacle; check out this short video to see what goes into overcoming the "seven minutes of terror."
In reality, all of the actions will be carried out autonomously by the craft, so there is no room for human error. Interestingly enough, it takes 14 minutes for the signals from the craft to reach Earth, which means by the time we receive word that the craft is entering the atmosphere the rover has already landed (successfully or not).
The game is designed to help educate families and kids about the importance in the mission and to inspire curiosity for those interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Give it a shot and appreciate what a truly incredible feat it must be to overcome the numerous challenges of landing on the Martian surface.
The game is out now and free for download at the Microsoft Marketplace. It requires the Xbox 360 console and Kinect controller to play.