Mars Curiosity rover transforms into an official Lego model

Hitting shops on January 1, the miniature block version of the fearless rover comes with 6-wheel suspension, a robotic arm, and even tiny plastic Martian rocks.

Final product for the Lego Mars rover. Lego

The world oohed and ahhed as NASA's Mars rover hurtled through the Red Planet's atmosphere, surviving "seven minutes of terror" and safely touching down on the barren landscape last year. Now, people can replay the death-defying feat with Legos.

The Danish toy company announced Thursday that on January 1 it will debut a new Lego set based on the Mars rover named Curiosity.

Just like the real spacecraft, the 1:20 scale Lego set comes with a 6-wheel rocker-bogie suspension, articulated robotic arm, and multiple camera sets. It also comes with a display plate and Lego brick Martian rocks for the miniature rover to roll over and test its suspension.

What's unique about this Lego project is that it was designed by mechanical engineer Stephen Pakbaz, who actually worked on the real-life Curiosity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Pakbaz submitted this project in 2011 to Lego's Kickstarter-esque Web site Cuusoo. After 10,000 votes and a formal review process, the Lego review board approved the project in June. Apparently, the final product is very close to Pakbaz's original designs.

"For me, the building experience was similar to what I felt when the real Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars," Pakbaz said in a statement.

Pakbaz said his favorite improvement on his design is the use of the Black Steering Arm, which uses ball joints to connect the suspension to the swiveling arm on top of the rover's body.

"It makes the rover even more accurate, robust, and easier to put together," Pakbaz said. "It is one of the more rare Lego elements and if I had known that it existed three years ago, I'm sure I would have used it too."

Pakbaz added that this Lego set is meant to be more than just a display piece.

"It can be used to explore the unknown regions of your house or office," he said. "After climbing the outer walls of Carpet Crater and descending into Couch Canyon you will finally be able to determine if your living room was ever capable of supporting microbial life."

Other projects posted to Cuusoo include the Large Hadron Collider, "Back to the Future" time-traveling Delorean, and a specialized space battle "exo suit."

The Mars rover will cost $29.99 at Lego's online store.

Screenshot image of the Lego Digital Designer model of the Curiosity rover. Lego
NASA artist concept of the actual Mars Curiosity rover. NASA

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