Perhaps it was only a matter of time before NASA's Mars Curiosity rover got its own official Lego avatar. The Mars Science Laboratory robot was picked by thousands of fans to be designed in toy brick form, and it joins a pantheon of other Red Planet spacecraft that have become popular playthings over the years.
The rover was picked after thousands of people voted to have it turned into a Lego set at a company website that lets layfolk submit their own ideas for Lego sets. Concepts with more than 10,000 votes are forwarded for consideration. The deadline was in September, just a month after Curiosity landed in Gale Crater, on Aug. 5.
The LEGO version was designed by Stephen Pakbaz, a mechanical engineer who worked on Curiosity while at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. The model has a rocker-bogie suspension system, like the original, and a giant moving arm just like the rover's instrument-laden limb.
"I combined this first-hand experience with my Lego hobby to create a Lego model that was as faithful to the actual rover as possible in terms of accuracy, details, and mechanical function, while remaining at a reasonable size and cost," Pakbaz wrote on a page describing the rover. "The primary purpose of this effort has been to contribute to the educational outreach for this incredible mission."
Toys based on Martian spacecraft have proved very popular over the years. Mattel's Hot Wheels version of NASA's Sojourner spacecraft in 1997 was so sought-after that JPL's Mars program manager at the time reportedly had to buy one from a scalper.
Mattel exhibited some daring this year, announcing plans to release a Hot Wheels version of the rover even before it landed, not waiting to make sure the spacecraft's complicated landing sequence (dubbed the Seven Minutes of Terror) didn't crash and burn.