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NASA releases cute Mars rover game to celebrate Curiosity anniversary

Mars enthusiasts will be beside themselves with dusty red delight when they hear what NASA’s just gone and done.

Celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Curiosity rover’s arrival on the faraway planet, the space agency has released a new social game with the deliciously obvious title of Mars Rover.

The super-straightforward iOS, Android, and desktop game requires you to navigate a rover across rough Martian terrain, the main challenge apparently being to keep its wheels intact and prevent the vehicle from toppling over as you go. “One crater crash, and it’s ‘game over’ for your rover!” NASA says in the game’s notes. Along the way you can use radar technology to search for buried water, a feature expected to be part of the next Mars rover currently being prepped for a 2020 launch.

“We’re excited about a new way for people on the go to engage with Curiosity’s current adventures on Mars and future exploration by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover too,” said Michelle Viotti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. “Using social networks, the user can share the fun with friends. The interest that is shared through gameplay also helps us open a door to deeper literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

The result of a collaboration between the lab and gaming social network Gamee, Mars Rover‘s vehicle has, perhaps not surprisingly, little in common with the real one that’s currently exploring the red planet.

For example, as NASA points out, while the rover in the game rolls along at a steady clip, the Mars-based machine proceeds at a more leisurely two inches per second. At that rate it’d take about half an hour to make it across a football field.

Also, unlike in the game, Curiosity can’t respond immediately to an operator’s commands “because the signal takes too long to get to Mars,” NASA explains. “Instead, rover drivers send a list of commands to the rovers once per day. The rover finishes its ‘to do’ list, then it usually takes a nap to recharge its batteries.”

Related: Curiosity snaps a stunning self-portrait on Mars, not a selfie-stick in sight

For a more realistic view, check out this cool Experience Curiosity simulation that lets you explore Mars’ surface and learn about actual data discovered by NASA’s rover. Besides great graphics (rather better than those in the game, it has to be said), Experience Curiosity also offers tidbits about the rover itself, as well as audio clips explaining its various discoveries.

Have time for more? Then how about NASA’s impressive Mars Trek feature, a web-based tool that lets you zoom in close to Mars’ numerous craters and volcanoes – think of it as Google Earth for the red planet.