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NASA's free video game for Xbox Live: 'Mars Rover Landing' (+video)

Three weeks before the Mars Curiosity rover is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet, NASA had unveiled a new video game that takes players through the spacecraft's 'seven minutes of terror.'

By Mike WallSpace.com / July 16, 2012

Smoking Gun Interactive's new video game, Mars Rover Landing, is now available for the Xbox.

Microsoft/Smoking Gun Interactive

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NASA revealed a new video game today (July 16), one that celebrates the Aug. 5 landing of its huge Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars.

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As a robotic geologist approaches Mars, the mission program director says the rover's landing will be risky.

The game, called "Mars Rover Landing," is produced in collaboration with Microsoft and plays on the Xbox 360 system using the Kinect motion sensor. It's available free of charge in the Xbox Live Marketplace and Kinect Central, officials said.

"Mars Rover Landing" allows players to take control of Curiosity's spacecraft as it streaks through the Red Planet's atmosphere on a harrowing journey that mission engineers have dubbed "seven minutes of terror."

At the end, a rocket-powered sky crane lowers the rover to the Martian surface on cables, then flies off to crash-land intentionally a safe distance away.

"Families can get a taste of the daring that's involved in this, just landing this mission on the surface," Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, told reporters today. "It's going to be very similar to the way the team actually is going to do that." [The Best (And Worst) Mars Landings in History]

The game is an outreach vehicle, McCuistion added, an attempt to raise awareness of Curiosity's mission and NASA's planetary exploration endeavors in a more general sense.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover is the centerpiece of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission. It blasted off in late November and is on schedule to touch down at Mars' Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5.

Curiosity's main goal is to determine if the Gale Crater area is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life. The rover sports 10 difference science instruments to help it in this task, including a rock-zapping laser and gear that can detect organic compounds — the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.

NASA's Mars program is in flux after President Barack Obama's proposed 2013 federal budget, which was released in February, cut the agency's planetary science efforts by more than 20 percent. NASA is reformulating its Mars exploration efforts, attempting to find ways to do the best science possible with its limited means.

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