NASA's Next Mars Rover, Curiosity, Is an Internet Star
NASA's Curiosity Cam allows the public to watch technicians assemble and test NASA's next Mars rover in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Credit: NASA/JPL-CalTech

NASA's next Mars rover is living up to its name. More than 1 million people have logged on to watch the construction of Curiosity, as the rover is called, since NASA began broadcasting the work on the Internet.

Curiosity, a $2.3 billion rover also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is being assembled and tested in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. NASA's "Curiosity Cam" regularly shows engineers and technicians clad in head-to-toe white smocks working on the rover. [6 Facts About NASA's Curiosity Rover]

More than a million unique viewers spent a combined 400,000 hours watching the rover-building webcast between Oct. 21 ? when the webcast began ? and Nov. 23, NASA officials said. The daily webcast and chats have continued since to keep the public up to date on the Curiosity rover's construction.

The web camera is mounted in the viewing gallery of the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at JPL. While the gallery is already a regular stop on JPL's public tour for on-site visitors, NASA's Curiosity Cam allows visitors from around the world to see the space agency's engineers at work.

At scheduled times, viewers can also interact with each other and JPL rover staff via Curiosity Cam, according to NASA officials.

The Mars Science Laboratory is one of the most technologically challenging interplanetary rover missions ever designed, NASA officials have said. Curiosity is designed to drive longer distances over rougher terrain than previous Mars rovers.

The nuclear-powered rover will investigate whether the region around its Martian landing site ? the choice of which is still being finalized ? was ever capable of supporting microbial life, NASA officials said.

Curiosity will carry a science payload 10 times heavier than the instruments on NASA's twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which have been tooling around the Martian surface since early 2004.

This SPACE.com graphic shows the instruments that will be aboard the car-sized Curiosity rover, which is twice as long and four times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity.

Months of assembly and testing still remain before Curiosity is ready for launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The rover and spacecraft components will be shipped to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida next spring. The launch is due to occur between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011, and Curiosity is slated to arrive on Mars in August 2012.

Continuous live video of rover construction is available at NASA's JPL video streaming channel here.