Visiting the brother of Mars Curiosity

Today our family visited the San Francisco Exploratorium. The Exploratorium will be moving in 2013 but is currently housed in the Palace of Fine Arts, Lyon St, San Francisco.
This attraction is more than an art gallery and “science museum” also doesn’t suffice as a description. It is a vast collection of interactive exhibits, exploring science art art and human perception. Awesome fun for geeks of all ages. Currently NASA has a Mars Curiosity rover model on loan to the Exploratorium. During our visit we got to listen to an podcast being filmed at the exhibition by engineers from the JPL, (or Jet Propulsion Laboratory), that built the rover.
JPL is part of Caltech, or the Californian Institute of Technology. It is located in Pasadena just north of LA. I could drive six hours south and knock on the door of the lab. The JPL engineer I spoke to said I probably couldn’t get in but there is a chance I could coattail in on the back of one of the sporadic tours they organize for various groups in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ll try a visit next time I am in town.
In the meantime I could drive for a mere half-an-hour to visit a particle accelerator in Livermore.  I could also catch a tour at the NASA Ames Lab in Silicon Valley when accompanying Husband on business trips to Mountain View Silicon Valley.
California is geek heaven.
Back to the rover.
The Mars Science Laboratory, or “Curiosity”:

The photo above is of the wheel and sample collector from the brother of the Curiosity rover. The sample collector is housed at the end of a titanium robotic arm that has the ability to swivel 360 degrees and withstand the temperature swings from  the nightly -110 degrees F to 50degrees F. It has a badass drill as well as other nifty gadgets like a brush for cleaning dust from camera lenses.
The arm also has the mass spectrometer and “death-ray” laser spectrometer¬†to collect samples. The particles are then sifted through a set of filters called a chimera. ¬†¬†

I think this is the brains and the eyes on top of the rover. It sounds like the serious gear it is mostly in the robotic arm.

One Eerie Package.

I asked the engineers if this rover was ever a contender for landing on the red planet. He said no.This rover was never going to take to the air. It is one of two models used in displays by NASA. The actual rover was always designated as such from the start of construction. They also have an exact replica in the test environment at the JPL for troubleshooting and predicting how the “actual” rover will react. The actual and lab rover both weigh 2200 lbs and the models weigh a lot less but are built to scale:

We also whiled away three hours playing with interactive exhibits such as this:

 And this:

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