Watch engineers build a Mars rover!

By Phil Plait | October 23, 2010 7:00 am

The folks at JPL have installed a live webcam in a balcony overlooking the clean room where the next Mars rover, Curiosity, is being built. So you can watch smart NASA and Caltech people build a rover that’s going to Mars!

[Update: Sigh. Of course I post this on a Saturday morning when no one is working. But check back every now and again; I was watching on Friday afternoon and it was busy! And make sure you note the size of the rover; it’s far, far larger than the previous ones.]

There’s no audio, so don’t bother with sound. But on the UStream page linked above there’s a chat room.

If memory serves, what you’re seeing is the same clean room where Spirit and Opportunity were built; I visited JPL a few years back and saw them both being put together there. It’s amazing to look down on hardware you know is going to another planet.

Yay smart people!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, NASA
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, JPL, Mars

Comments (32)

  1. Rob G.

    “You can watch smart NASA and Caltech people build a freaking rover that’s going to Mars!”

    I certainly hope they’re smart. I’d hate to be watching a bunch of mental midgets putting this piece of high end technology together. Although it might make for a excellent Hollywood blockbuster. Maybe Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are looking for a comedic project?

  2. Messier Tidy Upper

    Neat! :-)

    I wish there was audio but I guess they’re trying to make sure its child-friendly if a technician hits her thumb witha hammer or suchlike and starts swearing! ;-)

    Thinking of missions under preparation – I believe one of the Shuttles is being prepared for a final flight taking off soon right?

    EDIT : Yes, indeed, STS-133, the final flight of the orbiter Discovery scheduled for “launch no earlier than 1 November 2010″ on checking.

    Source Wikipedia page : STS-133 – & the International Space Station is today’s Wiki-featured article too. :-)

  3. MyRealNameIsBobSmith

    I have to question the “smartness” quotient, as I see no duct tape being used anywhere on the spacecraft. $2.3 billion and they couldn’t even buy a couple of rolls of duct tape?! C’mon people, build that thing like you mean it!

  4. I wish you had posted this during the week. They don’t seem to be working on weekends. Not that I blame them. I will definitely visit them next week and be a voyeur.

  5. Messier Tidy Upper

    Here’s a link for the Discovery‘s last flight which I mentioned taking off in about a week’s time now :

    & here’s a link for the Curiousity rover :

    formerly known as the Mars Science Laboratory too.

    Hope these are handy / interesting for y’all. :-)

  6. XPT

    Lights on in an empty room all weekend? I get why they want to cut NASA’s budget :P

  7. 24601

    I found this same link somewhere yesterday, and couldn’t get it to work… same thing today. All I get is a black box where the video should be, both on the ustream site and here. :(

  8. Cathy

    Was fortunate to talk to some of the tech guys at JPL during my tenure at (Insert Name Of Big IT Company Here.) “So what do you guys do with your workstations?” “We design little rovers that go to Mars.”

  9. NAW

    Just keep watching and will something to move.

  10. Tony B

    Bring out the Oompah Loompahs!

  11. Zucchi

    That’s the size of a small car! Awesome.

  12. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Thomas Siefert : LOL! :-)

  13. Ray

    So lets say I’m watching and one of the guys puts a wheel on backwards or something. How do I tell someone? And do I get a reward for saving NASA millions?

  14. 1. Rob G. Says: “I certainly hope they’re smart. I’d hate to be watching a bunch of mental midgets putting this piece of high end technology together. Although it might make for a excellent Hollywood blockbuster.”

    We all know that NASA types are a bunch of over-educated weenies who can’t REALLY do anything needed in space. They need a bunch of wildcatter roughnecks to come in, knock the thing apart then get all A-Team/MacGyver on them to show them how it REALLY should work.

    After launch, they can stop by Mir and pick up a few hundred thousand pounds of liquid oxygen “fuel” but only after they start Mir spinning to make the docking easier…

    I gotta stop now. I’m already feeling the bile rise.

    – Jack

  15. Mark Hansen

    Maybe it’s just me but when I saw the headline for this article my first thought was “When did the Swiss get involved in Mars missions?”

  16. Max

    Where’s the fast-forward button on this thing?

  17. I like the fact you can add your name to a microchip that will be carried on the rover! My name is already aboard Kepler, now it’s going to Mars! I SHALL DESTROY YOU, PUNY HUMANS!

  18. Itzac

    Read all the comments, and now everyone’s gone. Oh well. At least now I can get a view of what they were working on.

  19. Ken (a different Ken)

    @3: Duct tape causes problems in vacuum testing. In the space biz, the equivalent is Kapton tape. I assure you there’s plenty of that on hand.

    @6: The cost of leaving lights on is tiny compared to the cost of running the air filtration equipment…

  20. 21. Ken (a different Ken) Says: “The cost of leaving lights on is tiny compared to the cost of running the air filtration equipment…”

    So what is this room rated? Those look like Class 100 bunny suits. That’s a huge volume to be cleaning to that extent.

    I presume the “black belts” next to the rover are grounding straps.

    – Jack

  21. MyRealNameIsBobSmith


    “Duct tape causes problems in vacuum testing. In the space biz, the equivalent is Kapton tape. I assure you there’s plenty of that on hand.”

    Dear buzzkill Ken: I was, um, joking about building MSL out of duct tape. As was XPT about leaving the lights on.

    But thanks for the skoolin’ about how things are done in teh space biz. (Note to self: do not mention duct tape experience when interviewing at JPL)

  22. fred edison

    Coolest series of remote control vehicles ever. I ‘zoomed then enhanced’ and saw a bumper sticker someone had slapped on the back of the growing Curiosity. It said, “I don’t brake for aliens.” :D

  23. Bouch

    Just out of curiosity, why does it have to be built in a clean room? Does it have to be kept in the same “sanitary” conditions when moving to the vehicle that’ll transport it into space?

  24. AJ in CA

    Wow, it’s a lot bigger than I thought!!
    One question I have – is it difficult to run large rovers (or any rover, for that matter) on solar energy (on Mars)? I understand that the solar irradiance is something like half as many watts/meter as it is on Earth, and I figure a bigger, heavier rover is going to take more juice to move. If you quadruple the weight, do you also need to quadruple the solar collection area? Smaller rovers are pretty much all solar panel on top as it is…

  25. AJ in CA

    Teh Wiki answered my question :D It’s powered by RTGs, like outer solar system missions. Very cool! The RTGs will put out over 4 times as much power (averaged over day and night) as the solar panels on the Mars Exploration rovers.

  26. AJ in CA

    @#24 Fred: Heh, you got me there. For a second I actually thought “Where’s the zoom and enhance button on the webcam viewer?” :P

    Another thing I wonder – this is the third generation of rovers with that “double rocker” six-wheel drivetrain. Apparently it’s working out very well for them. I wonder why you don’t see that system on other sorts of (terrestrial) vehicles, ie off-road rock-crawlers?

  27. AJ in CA

    Wow, seriously y’all, Google/Wiki the Mars Science Laboratory. It’s got some really cool new tech. In particular, the “skycrane” landing system and the Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy instrument (10 MW laser pulse! Pew pew pew!) are awesome as all heck.
    I can’t wait to see it in action!

  28. Andrew W

    Had a quick look, 10 people standing around watching 2 people doing some work.

    Now I know why these things cost so much.

  29. Just took another look at the work going on – on 4 Jan 2011. They’ve partially dismantled the vehicle ! – It appears that they’ve removed the skycrane assembly, plus the entire top of the rover, exposing miles of wiring. Has something failed during testing, or what ?


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