Mars Rover Landing on your XBox 360, with the Kinect


While we don't usually (ever) highlight Kinect XBox 360 games, this one is so cool and unusual (and free) that I couldn't resist. I mean, come on, it's NASA!

NASA partners with Microsoft to launch its first console game

In the past, NASA has used everything from websites and mobile apps to coverage on its own TV network to get the public excited about its space exploration efforts. But the run-up to the planned August 5 landing of the Mars rover "Curiosity" includes the organization's first foray into the world of console game development.

Mars Rover Landing, available this week as a free download on the Xbox 360, was inspired by "the entirely factual and amazing sequence of events to land Curiosity on Mars," Jeff Norris told Ars (Norris is the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab manager for planning and execution systems). Using the Kinect, players help adjust the landing module's angle as it enters the Martian atmosphere, handle timed explosive charges to discard the heat shield, and deploy a parachute before applying thrusters to gently touch the rover down on the Martian surface (that last bit is in a mini-game somewhat reminiscent of the arcade classic Lunar Lander). It's not the most complicated game on the market, but it does a good job of showing just how many things have to go exactly right to land a robot on another planet.

In real life, that entire automated process takes place during what NASA engineers refer to as "seven minutes of terror" when the Rover is unable to communicate with Earth. While NASA had previously detailed that sequence in a dramatic video from earlier this year, the organization felt there might be better ways to get the public involved in the story.

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Mars Rover Landing

How hard is it to land on Mars? Test your skills! Your mission: guide NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity to its landing site safely and on target. Use your body to direct the craft and control thrusters as you descend. Gain avatar gear and achievements for a safe landing. The rover’s success depends on you! The Games on Demand version supports English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese. This game requires a Kinect™ Sensor.

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