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Mars Curiosity Rover soon to be available as a Hot Wheels toy (+video)

Mattel has recreated a 1:64 scale miniature of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet on Saturday night, a part of the company's line of Hot Wheel toy cars. The die-cast replica will hit stores in September.

By Robert Z. PearlmanSpace.com / August 1, 2012

Mattel's Hot Wheels Mars Rover Curiosity is a 1:64 scale version of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory. NASA's real-life Mars rover Curiosity lands on Mars on Aug. 5/6, 2012.

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Soon after NASA's Curiosity rover lands and becomes the hottest set of wheels on Mars, it'll debut as the latest Hot Wheels to land on toy store shelves.

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This 11-minute animation depicts key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which will launch in late 2011 and land a rover, Curiosity, on Mars in August 2012.

Mattel, Inc., makers of the die-cast line of Hot Wheels toy cars, is ready to release the car-size Curiosity as its latest 1:64 scale miniature in September. The Hot Wheels "Mars Rover Curiosity" set is part of Mattel's assortment of 247 toy cars for 2012.

The real rover is set to touchdown on the Red Planet early Monday morning (Aug. 6) at 1:31 a.m. EDT (0531 GMT). The landing comes eight months after the rover launched from Earth and will end with a nail-biting "seven minutes of terror," during which the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft will use its thrusters, a parachute, retro-rockets and finally a sky crane to lower Curiosity to the surface of a Martian crater.

The Hot Wheels Curiosity model doesn't include the MSL spacecraft's cruise stage, chute or sky crane rig, but does recreate NASA's $2.5 billion nuclear-powered six-wheeled rover as a $1.09 (average price) hand-pushed six-wheeled toy.

"To commemorate the Mars Rover Curiosity created by NASA/JPL-Caltech, Hot Wheels created a 1:64 version," Mattel's product description reads. "Curiosity carries many tools such as a drill, cameras and a laser. Its mission [is] to see if Mars could have ever supported small life forms called microbes... or if humans could explore there some day!" [Gallery: Mattel's Hot Wheels "Mars Rover Curiosity"]

Mattel and the Mars rovers

Curiosity isn't Hot Wheels first Martian hot rod.

Mattel first worked with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) 15 years ago to produce the Hot Wheels "JPL Sojourner Mars Rover Action Pack Set."

The toy recreated Curiosity's much-smaller, older cousin, the Sojourner rover which landed as part of NASA's Mars Pathinder mission on July 4, 1997. Unlike the current Hot Wheels set, the Action Pack included three miniatures — the rover, its lander and spacecraft cruise stage.

"We hope this does indeed turn out to be a big hit," said JPL's Commercial Technology Office manager the month before the real rover landed on Mars.

A month later, the Sojourner set couldn't be found on store shelves — not because Mattel pulled it, but because it quickly sold out. Demand for the Hot Wheels rover was so strong that Mattel not only reissued the Action Pack a few times, but also released a celebratory 24-karat gold plated version.

The set's success also launched a series of NASA/JPL Hot Wheels toys. The next year brought a pack recreating the Jupiter-orbiting Galileo probe, followed by a set for the Apollo moon landings and astronaut John Glenn's space shuttle mission in October 1998.

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