Ever wonder what it would be like to be inside the NASA JPL labs as they put together a space robot? As a kid who grew up spending more time in school doodling spaceships, aliens, and astronauts when I should've been studying in class, the chance to look over the shoulder of the NASA engineers and technicians as they assemble one of the rover robots destined to drive across the surface of the red planet would be absolutely mind blowing. Well, now I, and everyone else with Internet access, can share in the experience.
Thanks to "Curiosity Cam" and UStream, we can all peek inside the clean room at NASA JPL in Pasadena California space while they assemble the next rover robot. Right now the technicians are working two shifts, from eight o'clock in the morning until 11 o'clock at night, five days a week. The camera is fixed on a single work area, so sometimes the action is out of camera site, but from what we have seen so far, a lot of the assembly process and activity will be in plain view. NASA has also included a disclaimer saying that sometimes they will have to turn off the camera for maintenance or technical issues, so don't expect to catch them in any dramatic bloopers.
They are archiving the videos from previous sessions, so you can always go back and see what happened if you are busy and couldn't watch some of the assembly. The current robot being assembled is named "Curiosity Rover" and is much larger than we expected. It's actually 10 feet long 9 feet wide and 70 tall, not including its arm. The robot weight is roughly 2000 pounds (900 kilograms), pretty much the same size and weight as a small car.
The target launch date from Cape Canaveral is projected to be around Thanksgiving next year, which will put the robot in position to land on Mars sometime in August 2012. There is extensive information on the robot and the mission downloadable from the UStream page, and of course the NASA JPL website.
You can even sign up your name included with others in a microchip that will be attached to the rover. So everyone can say that at least their name, and their spirit, made the trip to Mars, even if Space resorts and vacations are still a ways in the future.