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Curiosity rover -- "show" configuration
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This working 1:12 scale model of the Mars Science Laboratory rover captures Curiosity's main visual features and delivers scaled rough terrain performance comparable to that of the real thing. This page focuses on the visuals.
About this creation
Please feel free to look over the images and skip the verbiage.

For my money, the currently active Mars rover Curiosity and its astonishing entry, descent, and landing (EDL) scheme are together the greatest and most daring engineering feat in history. This pre-flight NASA animation gives a good feel for the mission, while this one (a must-see) highlights the EDL.1 Both are remarkably close to what's actually gone down.

"Curiosity" is the official nickname of the revolutionary Mars rover flown by NASA's ongoing "Mars Science Laboratory" (MSL) mission. The rover and its EDL resulted from the coordinated efforts of over 10,000 scientists, engineers, technicians, and fabricators representing many different countries over a 10 year period.

Save for one small weather instrument, every one of Curiosity's many complex subsystems has performed flawlessly -- not just in tests on Earth, mind you, but on the hostile, rover-killing planet we call Mars, never closer than 54 million km and 3 radio minutes away.

It's just a saying, right?

On this page

Curiosity in context: Mount Sharp diorama

The photos above and next few below show the MOC in a diorama meant to depict Curiosity at its ultimate scientific target -- the apparently water-laid layered sedimentary rocks exposed at the foot of Mount Sharp, the large, enigmatic mound at the center of Gale Crater. Curiosity is to drill powder samples from these rocks, scoop up samples of surrounding soils, and transmit the results of its onboard chemical and mineralogical analyses back to Earth.

Orbiter-based imagery and spectroscopy strongly suggest that the target rock sequence consists of alternating beds of rich in clay and sulfate minerals, respectively. If so, they reflect a series of alternating wet and dry local climates, respectively -- perhaps even a period of climatic instability leading up to the final disappearance of surface water on Mars ~4 billion years ago.

The diorama's built on a 6x6 raft of 12x12 modified bricks. The realistically contoured features represent a composite of surface features around the foot Mount Sharp known from existing high-resolution images taken by Curiosity and the HiRise Mars orbiter. The lower-relief portions of the diorama depict a now dry braided outwash stream emerging from a slot canyon in the far corner. Curiosity's target rocks are exposed in the slopes flanking the stream bed.

Drilling is by far Curiosity's most dangerous activity. For example, if its wheels were to slip while drilling on a slope, the drill bit could jam in its hole. Curiosity's designed to jettison the entire drill face in such an event and replace it with one of 2 spares carried on the front panel below the observation tray. The great power and strength of Curiosity's titanium alloy robotic arm also help to reduce the risk of getting stuck to a rock while drilling, but significant dangers remain.

As on Earth, the cliff-forming and slope-forming layers reflect differing resistances to erosion, the steeper slopes being more resistant.

Wind-blown sand has been the only significant agent of erosion on Mars for the last 4 billion years or so, but older landforms clearly shaped by flowing water are well preserved in many places. The landforms depicted here are much more typical of stream erosion.

I can't help wondering if Curiosity could be looking for life in all the wrong places.

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Modeling goals

I knew the moment I saw the pre-flight animation of Curiosity's EDL that I'd have to build a working model with as many mission-critical functions and features as possible. Priority would go to function over form and to proper 1:12 scaling wherever possible. In hindsight, modeling at 1:10 or even 1:8 scale would have been much easier.3

Below are the features I've modeled with some success:
  • Scaling: Within 5% of 1:12 scale on nearly everything except wheel width (too narrow) and the many functionally important intricacies of the instrument turret, ended up closer to 1:10.
  • Mobility system: All 6 wheels driven but none steered (hence, a 6x6x0 rather 6x6x4 platform), as it was impossible to steer the corner wheels at 1:12 scale; otherwise fully functional rocker-bogie suspension (RBS). Like Curiosity, the MOC's "go" configuration can surmount step-like obstacles 50% taller than its wheels.
  • Instrument mast: Motorized head rotation with manual tilt. ChemCam, the paired MastCams, the stereo NavCams, the twin REMS booms, and the tilt actuator and flex spool are all represented.
  • Robotic arm (RA): Manual operation of all 5 degrees of freedom (DOFs) with good position-holding ability. All 5 joint actuators and flex spools are represented.
  • Instrument turret: All 3 tools (percussion drill, CHIMRA, DRT) and both scientific instruments (APXS, and MAHLI camera).
  • Nuclear power supply (MMRTG): Core, cooling fins with proper 8-fold rotational symmetry, heat exchange panels.
  • Antennas: High-gain, low-gain, and UHF), with the high-gain on a manual azimuth-elevation gimbal.
  • Other deck features: RA mount and cable guide, ChemMin and SAM sample inlets, differential arm, RAD aperture, pyrotechnic control box with sundial,and SkyCrane tether attachments.
  • Front and rear panel features: Observation tray, sample playground, spare drill bit boxes, organic check material cannisters, robotic arm mount, and front and rear HazCams.
Show vs. go
This page features the MOC's "show" configuration with (i) IR receivers removed from the deck, (ii) deck features rearranged for maximum accuracy, (iii) dummy battery aft, (iv) wires tucked under the hull, and (v) under-hull rubber bands removed. The "go" configuration briefly mentioned below now has its own MOCpage with video showing it in action.

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MOC overview

Curiosity is a largely autonomous robotic field geologist, advanced imaging and remote sensing platform, sophisticated chemical and mineralogical laboratory, weather station, and advanced telecommunications station on wheels.

Curiosity the geologist collects samples of hard rock by drilling, as portrayed here. The rock powder collected by the drill is then processed and delivered to the CheMin analyzer and sometimes to the SAM analyzer as well. The drill is one of 5 devices on an instrument turret at the end of a 2.1 m, 5 degree-of-freedom (DOF) robotic arm mounted on the front panel of its hull. The arm is strong enough to put a good bit of the rover's weight behind the drill if necessary.

Next to the drill head on the near side of the turret is a complicated-looking tool called CHIMRA that scoops up samples of soils (loose materials, mostly dust and sand on Mars) and readies both soil and drill powder samples for analysis by the ChemMin and SAM instruments inside the hull. When CHIMRA's done with a sample, the arm carries it over the front part of the deck to deposit portions of the sample into one or both of the round black sample inlets there. Mounted on the hull's front panel within reach of the turret are several other fixtures that assist in the collection and processing of samples in various ways.

Curiosity the imaging platform carries 17 cameras in all -- 4 of them primarily for scientific use, and the rest primarily for engineering purposes. Five of the 17 cameras reside on the instrument mast rising from the deck, and another, on the turret. Curiosity's primary remote sensing device, ChemCam, occupies most of the box (Remote Warm Electronics Box, RWEB) atop the mast. ChemCam incorporates a powerful laser that heats small rock and soil targets to a glowing plasma and a telescope and spectrometer that together analyze the spectrum of light emitted by the plasma to deduce the rock's chemical make-up -- all from up to 7 m away. This capability allows Curiosity to evaluate many potential sampling targets from a distance.

Curiosity the laboratory analyzes powdered rock and soil samples with 2 ultra-minaturized internal instruments called CheMin and SAM. ChemCam and the turret's Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) also provide elemental compositions without any need for sample collection.

Curiosity the weather station uses the gray REMS booms halfway up the instrument mast to collect meterological data.

Curiosity the telecommunications station has 3 different anntennas -- one to communicate directly with Earth, another to communicate with Mars orbiters, and a 3rd used only during its EDL sequence. Most of the data Curiosity collects returns to Earth via the orbiters, whereas the direct link is used primarily for communication with its handlers at JPL.

Curiosity the rover gets around on a sophisticated mobility system based on NASA's patented rocker-bogie suspension (RBS). The RBS is a 6x6x4 platform (all 6 wheels driven, all 4 corner wheels steered) that keeps all 6 wheels on the ground and keeps the attitude of the hull within safe limits over even the roughest terrain. These capabilities allow Curiosity to surmount step-like obstacles up to 50% taller than its 50 cm wheels. (Try that in your SUV!)

Perhaps more importantly, the RBS, ultra-low aspect ratio wheels, and nuclear power supply (see below) work together to maximize Curiosity's odds against the greatest outside threats to its mission -- hidden soft soil traps. The role of the nuclear power supply -- the bulky structure angling up from the rear end in this side view -- is indirect but critical here. By freeing Curiosity from dependence solar power, it eliminates a common cause of death among previous rovers -- namely, power failure due to the dusting-over of solar panels during prolonged extrication attempts.

On each side, a bent arm called a "bogie" carries the rear and middle wheels mount at its ends. A longer bent arm called the "rocker" carries the bogie at one end and the front wheel at the other. In between is a pivot where the rocker attaches to the side of the hull. The bogie pivots freely on the rocker, but the hull does not.

Though the hull may look to be balancing on the rocker pivots, its attitude relative to the rockers is under positive mechanical control. Inside the hull, a complex gear train connects the right and left rockers so as to form what amounts to a giant differential gearbox with the hull as its casing. Each rocker also connects to a deck-mounted pivoting differential arm via an external link and lever, all seen here in black. These internal and external linkages restrict the pitch of the hull to the average of the rocker pitches.

The angled Technic connectors forming the rockers and bogies were doubled and cross-tied in parallel to reduce bending and twisting. The lengths and angles of the bogies and the location of the rocker axles relative to the hull were all precisely scaled for realistic action. A LEGO® differential inside the hull and a working differential arm above connect the rocker axles to the hull in the manner just described.

Left rocker separated to show the 1.67:1 reduction in the wheel hub.

At 1:12 scale, no LEGO® wheel could even come close to the ultra-low aspect ratio (diameter/width) of Curiosity's wheels. The best I could do was to stuff 43.2x28 small balloon wheels and 30x13 Model Team wheels back-to-back into 43.2x28 small balloon tires. My fingers were sore for days afterward. The resulting wheels are close to scale in diameter but are still way too narrow. The wheel widths are the MOC's only other significant deviation from 1:12 scale besides the ~1:10 turret.

Closer look at the right rocker and its attachment to the rocker axle. The horizontal black pulley wheels with half pins above the front wheel are meant to represent the steering actuator on this corner wheel.

Since I couldn't find a way to steer the corner wheels at 1:12 (and frankly doubt that it can be done without severely compromising RBS performance), the MOC has a 6x6x0 platform. However, my RBS is otherwise fully functional in every respect, including the ability to surmount step-like obstacles up to 50% higher than its wheels.

Putting all 3 right wheel motors on one IR receiver terminal and all 3 left wheel motors on another provided very limited skid steering. I had to use the older V1 receivers here, as V2 receivers refuse to run 3 motors on one terminal. Unfortunately, the structural elements and differential gearbox inside the hull left no room for IR receivers at 1:12 scale.

The wheels tend to spread outward when the MOC moves forward and pull inward when it goes in reverse. The latter isn't a problem, but the former reduces ground clearance and impairs rough terrain performance to some extent. To counteract the outward spread, I use the ball mounts shown here to pull the rockers together with stout rubber bands (removed here) running under the hull. Crossing the rubber bands under the hull reduces interference with rocker operation to a tolerable level. Additional rubber bands reinforce the rear rocker pivots.

These rubber bands are the MOC's only non-LEGO® parts. If my bogies and RBS axles were made of the exotic alloys NASA uses for theirs, I wouldn't have had to resort to such measures to get a fully functional RBS.

Top view for scale. The light-colored floor tiles were 305 mm (12 in) squares before the corner cuts. The differential arm and its pivot are well seen. The round black feature just forward of the left end of the arm is the aperture of the RAD instrument, which monitored radiation levels during Curiosity's cruise stage to Mars but became inactive thereafter. In the final stage of Curiosity's spectacular EDL sequence, a SkyCrane lowered it to the ground on a 3-point tether attached to the 3 black deck features forming an equilateral triangle with one apex pointing aft. The robotic arm is stowed in this photo as well.

With Curiosity's robotic arm (RA) now fully extended, all of the RA's joints and segments can be seen. From lower left to upper right: The 2-DOF shoulder joint attached to its black mount on the front panel of the hull, upper arm, 1-DOF elbow joint, forearm, and 2-DOF wrist joint, which is actually 2 joints in one.

The more distal of the 2 wrist joints -- the one attached directly to the instrument turret at upper right -- shows the joint components well. The black conical hub at the lower end of the joint axle represents the joint actuatuator (the electric motor that actually moves the joint). The black wheel at the upper end of the axle represents the flex spool, which protects the joint cabling from brittle fracture on cold days.

A good look at the RA shoulder joint and the RA front panel mount above it. The MOC's RA joints hold their positions fairly well, but not when the extended RA approaches the horizontal.

Instrument turret poised to drill a rock. Guard rods flank the drill bit at 6 o'clock. The gray structure at 12 o'clock is part of the drill housing. The black CHIMRA tool runs from 3-5 o'clock, and the white APXS instrument is at 1 o'clock. At 8-9 o'clock is the DRT -- basically a forked wire brush used to clean rock surfaces prior to drilling and APSX measurements, and at 9-11 o'clock is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) -- a high-resultion color camera that can focus from infinity to millimeter scale. (The field geologist's hand lens resembles a jeweler's loupe. Like MAHLI, it's used to inspect rocks at millimeter scale.)

Close-up of the MAHLI side of the turret with MAHLI on the left and DRT on the right. My turret isn't as fragile as it might look, but the guard rods (very hard to model) constantly fall out of alignment with the bit.

Curiosity also uses MAHLI to take the many selfies it sends back to JPL for engineering (and PR) purposes.

Two views of the CHIMRA and APXS side of the turret. CHIMRA has already been discussed. The white APXS is a contact instrument meant to be planted directly on a rock or soil surface. When alpha particles emitted from a curium-244 source inside the APXS strike atoms in the target, the APXS detects the fluorescent X-rays produced. The elemental composition of the target can be deduced from the energy spectrum of the X-rays.

Rendering the turret and its many intricate but functionally important details turned out to be a modeling nightmare at 1:12 scale: Nothing LEGO® was small enough. In the end, small clip- and bar-bearing parts -- and (gasp) parts thereof -- yielded a decent turret at ~1:10 scale. The turret is the MOC's most significant scaling discrepancy.

Front panel features from left to right: (i) Gray square observation tray allowing the MAHLI camera to image samples against a known background before they're dumped into one or both samplet inlets. (ii) Sample "playground", used to test questionable soil samples for compatibility with CHIMRA's internal passages. (iii) Black spare drill bit holders. (iv) Above, an array of colorful cannisters containing organic check materials (OCMs). The OCMs allow Curiosity to double-check the cleanliness of CHIMRA's passages and SAM's sample inlet when SAM detects an organic compound suspected of being a contaminant brought from Earth. (v) Below, the white downward-looking paired front HazCams. (vi) Robotic arm mount and shoulder joint. Curiosity's 4 HazCams take low-resolution stereo images used primarily in hazard avoidance.

The black round deck features just above the front panel are the CheMin and SAM sample inlets. ChemMin analyzes rock and soil samples prepared by CHIMRA for chemical elements and minerals present via powder X-ray diffraction and fluorescence, while SAM analyzes primarily for organic compounds and related inorganic compounds and volatiles -- including water -- using a variety of methods.

A better look at the sample playground. The RA positions CHIMRA's soil scoop over the playground and drops a portion of the suspect sample into the tube and funnel modeled here in gray. MAHLI then looks to see if anything failed to get through. If the sample passes this test, CHIMRA swallows the rest for processing.

Curiosity's science payload consists of 10 instruments, 4 of which are mounted on this instrument mast: (i) ChemCam, a remote chemical analyzer and telescope housed in the box (aka Remote Warm Electronics Box, RWEB) atop the mast. ChemCam's ablation laser and telescope operate through the len system on the RWEB's right face. (ii and iii) Two high-resolution color MastCams, one medium-angle and the other narrow-angle (square apertures right below the RWEB). Of Curiosity's 17 cameras, these MastCams and the MAHLI camera on the turret are the only ones producing color images. (iv) Dual REMS weather booms at mid-mast. Flanking the MastCams are the stereo NavCams used to construct the 3D computer vision representations Curiosity uses to negoiate the Martian surface autonomously. The NavCams are considered engineering cameras but are sometimes used for scientific purposes as well.

Curiosity's 3 antennas from left to right: (i) Large hexagonal high-gain antenna (HGA), (ii) small, gold-tipped low-gain antenna (LGA) on left rear pedestal, and (iii) black coffee can-like UHF antenna on right rear pedestal. Curiosity uses the HGA to communicate directly with its handlers at JPL. The UHF antenna is generally used to transmit data to an orbiter for relay to Earth. The LGA was used only during Curiosity's EDL sequence.

Closer look at the highly directional HGA. Its working 2-DOF azimuth-elevation mount allows it to keep Earth in its narrow field of view regardless of Curiosity's heading.

The midline structure angling up from Curiosity's rear end with a cylindrical core surrounded by 8 cooling fins is the nuclear power supply -- offically the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG). The MMRTG frees Curiosity from reliance on solar power -- the Achilles heel of all previous Mars rover missions -- by turning the heat produced by the radioactive decay of non-fissible plutonium-239 into electrical power. The MMRTG has a nominal service life of 14 years but is expected to produce power adequate to Curiosity's needs for at least several years beyond that.

The large C-shaped panels flanking the MMRTG are heat exchangers belonging to Curiosity's internal thermal control system, which must maintain safe operating temperatures within the hull (aka Warm Electronics Box, or WEB) in the face of daily external temperature swings exceeding 100°C. The exchangers can either (i) warm the WEB by capturing waste heat from the MMRTG, or (ii) cool it by radiating excess heat into the Martian atmosphere, as needed.

The 8-fold rotational symmetry of the MMRTG's cooling fins proved very difficult to model at 1:12 scale. The only solution I could find yielded a fairly realistic rendering at proper scale but was quick to fall apart -- especially during assembly. After putting it back together for the umpteenth time the night before a show, I threw in the towel and (gasp) got out the superglue.

Low-angle orbiter image of the Martian surface at the transition between the rugged rocky southern highlands to the right and the northern plains to the left. Gale Crater is near this enigmatic global transition at a different longitude.

Above the horizon is the Martian atmosphere, reddened by the ultra-fine iron oxide-rich dust covering nearly all of the planet's surface. Dust storms, sometimes global in extent and weeks in duration, are frequent on Mars. Dust-covered solar panels nearly killed Spirit and Opportunity several times.

To eliminate that risk for Curiosity, its designers turned to the same nuclear power supplies previously used in many planetary orbiter and fly-by missions and in both Viking Mars landers, but never before in a rover due to their weight. It took Curiosity's radical new EDL sequence to make landing a rover with a nuclear power supply feasible. Curiosity includes many other dust countermeasures.

Another look at the MMRTG.

The white box below and in front of the black UHF antenna is the pyrotechnics control box. This box orchestrated the small detonations used to detach the series of EDL vehicles that brought Curiosity to a safe landing. Its final task was to cut Curiosity's SkyCrane tether once the rover was safely on the ground. Atop the pyrotechnics control box is a small black sundial used as a navigational aid. (Unlike Earth's, Mars' very weak and spotty magnetic field is useless for navigation.)

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"Go" configuration (GC)

This page features the MOC at its closest approach to visual accuracy -- the "show" configuration (SC). But it also comes in a remote control "go" configuration (GC) that can surmount step-like obstacles ~1.5 times taller than its wheels, just like the real thing.

The GC MOCpage features video of the MOC in action. The cosmetic sacrifices are minor. The SC carries the motors used by the GC but has no way to activate them.

About Curiosity

Curiosity sends back selfies constantly. Some are for PR purposes, but most are engineering self-inspections. It took this true-color MAHLI mosaic on October 6, 2015 (its 1,126th sol on Mars) while standing over a freshly drilled hole in cross-bedded sandstone at the "Big Sky" study site.

Officially, the NASA mission behind Curiosity is "Mars Science Laboratory" (MSL), and Curiosity, the "Mars Science Laboratory rover". The "laboratory" part refers to the revolutionary chemical and mineralogical analyzers onboard.2

Curiosity landed in the NW sector of Gale Crater on August 6, 2012, well within its intended 7x20 km landing ellipse. Its over-arching science mission is (i) to gather remote sensing data, (ii) to collect rock and soil samples chosen by its handlers, and (iii) to analyze those samples right there on Mars to a degree never before possible -- all with one primary question in mind: Was Mars was ever habitable to life as we know it?

Mars clearly had water in liquid form -- the sine qua non of any conceivable life form -- at its surface until about 4 billion years ago. Hence, any life it might have harbored probably predated that, and probably never advanced past microbial stage in any event. Secondary mission objectives include collection of geological data bearing especially on the history of surface water on Mars and meteorological data on past and current atmospheric conditions.

Toward those ends, Curiosity must function as a largely autonomous robotic field geologist, advanced imaging and remote sensing platform, sophisticated chemical and mineralogical laboratory, weather station, and advanced telecommunications station on wheels. Its ultimate sample collection targets are what appear to be water-laid layered sedimentary rocks rich in clays and sulfates at the foot of Mount Sharp, Gale Crater's somewhat enigmatic central mound. Curiosity is to drill powder samples from these rocks and transmit the analyses back to Earth -- without getting trapped in soft soil (as Spirit did in May, 2009) along the way. Much of its mobility system design centers on avoiding that fate.

Note that Curiosity has no drivers with joysticks at its mission control center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. Most of the time, it just receives commands each evening giving the next day's destination and approximate route. Curiosity is then expected to get there on its own without getting into trouble, but always has the option to stop and phone home when it senses that something's amiss.

Science and engineering teams pore over the data returned by Curiosity as it comes in -- the scientists choosing imaging, remote sensing, and sampling targets as they arise, and the engineers identifying low-risk routes and hazards to be avoided ahead. Curiosity also spends a good bit of time taking engineering selfies to check for physical damage and other potential problems.

Curiosity's not pretty. Rather, it represents a complete triumph of function over form. If anything about it looks cool, it's only because that form happens to work best. Having no need for streamlining, Curiosity can look as angular, awkward, and gangly as it needs to be to carry out its mission. It never flew uncovered, and though it faces ferocious winds daily, their threat to its many decidedly unaerodynamic appendages is greatly diminished by the thinness of the Martian atmosphere.

Consider also the wheels, which many find cool-looking because they resemble race car wheels in their extremely low aspect ratio (diameter/width). Their appearance, however, was dictated almost entirely by the need to avoid the fate of Spirit, which became permanently trapped in soft sand in May, 2009. (By then, both Spirit and Opportunity had already had several very close calls.)

Wheel diameter and aspect ratio emerged from complex calculations taking into account things like the rover's weight on Mars, its overall dimensions, desired ground clearance, the steepest slopes to be negotiated, the highest obstacles to be mounted, and, most of all, the sinkages to be expected (often from hard experience) in known Martian soil types. Had these calculations called for tall, skinny wheels instead, that's what Curiosity would be sporting.

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Specifications (show configuration only)

Overall dimensions:
280 x 256 x 188 mm (LxWxH) with robotic arm stowed
Overall weight:1.04 kg in "show" configuration
Construction:Studded hull with studded and studless appendages
Scale:1:12 except for instrument turret (~1:10)
Mobility system:6x6x0 (as opposed to Curiosity's 6x6x4)
Suspension:Fully functional rocker-bogie
Propulsion:M motor on each wheel
Steering:Limited skid via independent control of right and left wheelsets
Wheels:43.2x28 small ballon wheels and 30x13 Model Team wheels stuffed back-to-back into 43.2x28 small balloon tires
Motors:7 in all -- 6 Ms for propulsion, 1 micro for instrument mast head rotation
IR receivers:2 V1s to allow 3 M motors per connection
IR receiver connections:3 in all -- 1 for each wheelset (3 M motors each); 1 for mast head micro motor
Electrical power:7.4V PF Li polymer rechargeable battery
Modified LEGO® parts:Many -- mostly parts of small bar-bearing parts in the instrument mast head and turret
Non-LEGO® parts:Rubber bands used to reduce wheel spread in forward motion and reinforce rear bogie pivots
Credits:Entirely original MOC, including diorama

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1 Curiosity's revolutionary EDL sequence paved the way for much heavier landed payloads to come, and much of the rover is revolutionary as well -- including the extremely miniturized mineralogical and chemical analyzers within its hull. (These are respectively called "CheMin" and "SAM", the latter for "Sample Analysis on Mars". Normally, the equipment needed to perform the same analyses would fill a large room.)

2 A word about NASA mission and rover names: Officially, the NASA mission behind Curiosity is "Mars Science Laboratory" (MSL), and Curiosity, the "Mars Science Laboratory rover". The "laboratory" part refers to the onboard ChemMin and SAM analyzers.

Traditionally (and partly for PR reasons), Mars rovers take popular names usually selected from student essay contests, and "Curiosity" was no different. NASA folks, however, refer to Curiosity simply as "MSL". Curiosity's much smaller immediate predecessors, the twin rovers popularly known as "Spirit" and "Opportunity" flew under the auspices of the "Mars Exploration Rover" (MER) mission and were formally just "MER-A" and "MER-B", respectively.

3 LEGO® began selling a NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover set (21104) based on an excellent CUUSOO entry by MSL engineer Stephen Pakbaz in 2014. The CUUSOO entry garnered the necessary 10,000 votes more quickly than usual, and the set's first run sold out quickly as well. (Another is forthcoming.)

This MOC was largely complete when the set was released. Its greater size allows it to be much more detailed and realistic (both functionally and visually), and to be motorized under PF remote control with realistic rough-terrain performance.


 I made it 
  March 7, 2016
Quoting Zachary Baker This is awesome! I'm sorta into scientific stuff, so this is awesome!
Glad you like it, Zachary! I prefer my LEGO with a big dose of science, and the science doesn't get much better than this. To see the current version in action under remote control, see the "go" version at
 I like it 
  March 7, 2016
This is awesome! I'm sorta into scientific stuff, so this is awesome!
 I made it 
  March 7, 2016
Quoting Greg 998 Amazing build!
Thanks, Greg!
 I like it 
  March 7, 2016
Amazing build!
 I made it 
  December 9, 2015
Quoting zhan James It really is a great MOC.
Thank you, zhan!
  December 9, 2015
It really is a great MOC.
 I made it 
  November 21, 2015
Quoting Mariner 1000 Wonderful job! The amount of detail is perfect and the fact that it's motorized is just awesome.
Many thanks, Mariner! As you can probably tell, it was a labor of love.
 I like it 
  November 18, 2015
Wonderful job! The amount of detail is perfect and the fact that it's motorized is just awesome.
 I made it 
  November 8, 2015
Quoting Geology Joe Awesome work! Besides the fantastic rover, I also love the Martian outcrop.
Too kind, Joe! As you well know, that outcrop at the foot of Mount Sharp is 90% of the reason MSL's on Mars in the first place, so I had little choice but to take a stab at it.
 I like it 
  November 8, 2015
Awesome work! Besides the fantastic rover, I also love the Martian outcrop.
 I made it 
  November 7, 2015
Quoting Oran Cruzen A great work of Lego "Curiosity" creationism from you! Even the landscape is outstanding!
Many thanks, Oran. The landscape was first my try. Having looked at lots of topo maps over the years helped.
 I like it 
  July 31, 2015
A great work of Lego "Curiosity" creationism from you! Even the landscape is outstanding!
 I made it 
  January 26, 2015
Quoting Andy Vanity Just great. Looks so detailed and well shaped, it deserves more likes. Honestly you only failed in the huge text, because it would take a lot to read everything so people end up reading nothing at all. Maybe resuming the text to the essential and leaving a link for more info would be a better idea for the next time ;)
Andy, Thanks for the kind words. You're right about the text. I'll have come up with a venue for the continuations.
 I like it 
  January 23, 2015
Just great. Looks so detailed and well shaped, it deserves more likes. Honestly you only failed in the huge text, because it would take a lot to read everything so people end up reading nothing at all. Maybe resuming the text to the essential and leaving a link for more info would be a better idea for the next time ;)
 I like it 
  September 26, 2014
Okay wow that's awesome.
 I like it 
  March 7, 2014
Beautiful. This is a real engineering feat, and it looks sciency too - The MMRTG is very well done, as is the clever way you made the wheels. The diorama is superb as well!
 I made it 
  March 6, 2014
Quoting Stephen Pakbaz Incredible Curiosity LEGO model! I'm glad my MOC helped you with yours. I know how challenging it must have been to make. A lot of people have shown interest in a motorized Curiosity rover set. I began looking into making one myself a while ago, but haven't started building anything yet, and it will likely be a while before I have the time. It looks like you've captured every last detail, even down to individual bolts in some places. Much more detail than I was able to include in my smaller model. It sounds like you now know everything about the rover itself, inside and out, which is great! Again, it's a fantastic model! Happy building!
Stephen, thanks for the very kind words. They mean a lot coming from you. I look forward to seeing the motorized MSL model you come up with one day. (I'd recommend 1:10 over the 1:12 scale I used, though.) If you happened to notice anything wrong with the MOC or my endless write-up, please let me know.
  March 3, 2014
Incredible Curiosity LEGO model! I'm glad my MOC helped you with yours. I know how challenging it must have been to make. A lot of people have shown interest in a motorized Curiosity rover set. I began looking into making one myself a while ago, but haven't started building anything yet, and it will likely be a while before I have the time. It looks like you've captured every last detail, even down to individual bolts in some places. Much more detail than I was able to include in my smaller model. It sounds like you now know everything about the rover itself, inside and out, which is great! Again, it's a fantastic model! Happy building!
By Jeremy McCreary
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Added February 28, 2014

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