Who needs to go to Mars when there’s a new 3D Mars simulator?

7 Aug 2015

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) on NASA's Curiosity. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

As NASA celebrates the three-year anniversary of the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, the space agency is now giving anyone online the chance to explore it with a Mars simulator.

The 3D Mars simulator is called Mars Trek and is a free, web-based application that provides high-quality, detailed visualisations of the planet using real data from 50 years of NASA exploration.

Aside from just entertaining space enthusiasts, NASA is also hoping to encourage users who are astronomers, citizen scientists and students to study the Red Planet’s features.

The Mars Trek program has already been tested by NASA’s own researchers, who are using it to aid in the selection of possible landing sites for the agency’s Mars 2020 rover.

It is also planning to use it as part of NASA’s newly-announced process to examine and select candidate sites for the first human exploration mission to Mars in the 2030s.

For those experiencing Mars Trek, you can find interactive maps, which include the ability to overlay a range of data sets generated from instruments aboard spacecraft orbiting Mars, and analysis tools for measuring surface features.

3D curiosity simulator rover

Explore Curiosity screengrab via NASA/JPL-Caltech

Standard keyboard gaming controls are used to manoeuvre the users across Mars’ surface and 3D printer-exportable topography allows users to print physical models of surface features.

NASA is also now allowing web users to see what Curiosity sees through its own ‘eyes’ and even get to drive the rover across the surface of Mars, 20 times as fast as Curiosity actually travels.

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

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic