You don’t have to be a NASA brain to have your own version of Curiosity crawling over the dusty expanses and rocky terrain of Earth. The space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Open Source Rover Project is actually encouraging hardcore space enthusiasts to construct one out of spare parts and basically freak out all the neighbors within a half-mile radius.
JPL first built a scale model of Curiosity, called ROV-E, as an educational tool for students and space geeks after the rover successfully touched down on Mars. Unlike Curiosity, ROV-E was actually portable enough to roll into classrooms and museums for anyone who has never seen one of these firsthand (that would be most of us) to witness it in action. Of course, people started asking how to build one of these things.
ROV-E was a complex structure with a price tag that would probably be astronomical for anyone without a NASA kind of budget. JPL engineers were still determined to create a version that would be much more accessible. For around $2,500, you can make a JPL Open Source Rover (OSR) with everything from Curiosity’s 6-wheel steering to its Rocker-Bogie suspension. Extra points if you already own a drone to go with it.
“We wanted to give back to the community and lower the barrier of entry by giving hands on experience to the next generation of scientists, engineers, and programmers,” said Open Source Rover project sponsor Tom Soderstrom.
Anyone who undertakes this project better be ace at following instruction manuals, because this one is pretty complicated, as you’d probably expect from NASA. You can even customize the hardware and software. Choose your own controller and weigh the pros and cons of whether it’s worth adding USB cameras or solar panels depending on what benefits your mission more. You can also add your own science payload, even if that is a bag of rocks.
Whether or not you feel like your rover could climb Olympus Mons, you can also interact with others who are taking on the same challenge and swap ideas. The design for this rover is really a base model that uses a trip to the hardware store and whatever you may have lying around in your garage to test your creativity. Those ideas could even be used in future NASA missions.
Just consider yourself warned that all the neighborhood kids are going to be magnetically attracted to this contraption if you do decide to build it.