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."
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.
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.
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.