Clever Illustrations Dub NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity a 'Red World Car'

Get ready to see the Mars rover Curiosity in a way you'd never expect, through intricate illustrations and delightfully simple language that explains the awesomeness that is NASA's "Red World Space Car."

Excerpted from "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words" © 2015 by Randall Munroe. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

The Curiosity close-up comes from a new book by Randall Munroe, creator of the science-y stick-figure comic "xkcd," entitled "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). The oversize book's diagrams spotlight diverse science and engineering topics, many focused on spaceflight and the greater universe around us, all in the most common "ten-hundred" (1,000) English words, which are listed at the end of the book.

Excerpted from "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words" © 2015 by Randall Munroe. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

For the rover's part, Munroe describes its sensors ("eye for looking down," "eyes for seeing rocks so the car won't hit them," "rock touchers" and so on) as well as its epic landing procedure from space and its mission to seek out signs of life.

A portrait of "Thing Explainer" author Randall Munroe. (Image credit: Randall Munroe)

Munroe is also the author of "What If?" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) — a book that did the math on outrageous scenarios, like everyone aiming a laser pointer at the moon at the same time or a baseball thrown at light speed, as well as a "Thing Explainer"-style video on "How to Go to Space".

Besides the Mars rover Curiosity, the book, released Nov. 24, diagrams the "shared space house" (International Space Station), "big tiny thing hitter" (Large Hadron Collider), "the sky at night" (night sky, and how to look at space) and "worlds around the sun" (solar system) among many, many others — plus, of course, the "U.S. Space Team's Up Goer Five" (Saturn V Moon Rocket), which inspired the whole exercise when he diagrammed it in an online comic.

Munroe worked at NASA's Langley Research Center before devoting all of his time to cartooning, and his comics have often joyfully probed arcane topics in space science, robotics and engineering. "Thing Explainer" distills this skill to its most basic building block, relating complicated information in an unexpected, understandable way, whether about washing machine engineering, the Earth's geography or the periodic table. The humor — and the wonder — of "Thing Explainer" comes when that can actually be done, time after time.

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Sarah Lewin
Associate Editor

Sarah Lewin started writing for in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.