Explore Mars with NASA’s Curiosity simulator

To commemorate the three-year anniversary of Mars rover Curiosity landing on the Red Planet, NASA has unveiled two new free web apps that help dissipate the mystery surrounding the dusty planet.

Explore Mars with NASA’s Curiosity simulator

The more interesting of the two new apps is Experience Curiosity, which allows you to take direct control of a simulated Curiosity rover. Using scientific data fed back from Curiosity itself, NASA has rebuilt the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater for intrepid Mars explorers.

“At three years old, Curiosity already has had a rich and fascinating life,” said Jim Erickson, project manager for the Curiosity mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “This new program lets the public experience some of the rover’s adventures first-hand.”

To add a more educational slant, NASA has added in some interesting guided tours of Mars, along with narrated lessons about each of Curiosity’s points of discovery and even how the rover works.

The second app on offer is Mars Trek, essentially a Google Maps for Mars. Don’t expect traffic routes and bus timetables, though: NASA has been using the tech behind Mars Trek to help pick out future possible landing sites for the Mars 2020 rover and the Mars mission in 2030.

Created using high-quality images and detailed visualisations of the Red Planet, Mars Trek has been released to help the public gain a deeper understanding of Mars. NASA hopes it can enlist the help of citizen astronomers and scientists to unravel the mystery of Mars, while also giving students the opportunity to see what Mars really looks like.

If you have a 3D printer, you can even print out physical models of Mars’ surface. While that may sound gimmicky, it’s excellent for a classroom environment, allowing students and teachers to understand why scientists believe Mars once had water flowing across its surface.

By making these tools readily available, NASA hopes to boost our understanding of the Red Planet, while also piquing our interest in space exploration. Perhaps NASA believes that by the time a manned mission to Mars rolls around in 2030, there’ll be an even bigger pool of experts to draw from.

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