Replica Red Planet rover built in garage
THONOTOSASSA - The Mars Science Laboratory rover, NASA's next major mission, won't blast off from Cape Canaveral until later this week, but a full-size replica — built in a Thonotosassa garage — has already landed at New York City's premier history museum. Unlike the spacecraft scheduled to launch between Friday and Dec. 18, the 600-pound homegrown version is the creation of one man: Bruce Olds. Obsessed with America's space program since reading "Chariots for Apollo" in 1999, the 51-year-old has several Mercury 7 capsule replicas on public display. His reproduction of the capsule piloted in 1961 by Alan Shepard, the first American in space, has been on exhibit at Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry since 2002. Since 2009, a different reproduction has been displayed at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, N.H. Another of his capsules was purchased for $40,000 in 2008 by Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, Wisconsin Dells, Wis., home to 150 interactive exhibits on a range of activities, including space travel.Olds' latest compact-car-size creation was completed in October and trucked to the 142-year-old American Museum of Natural History for an exhibition that opened Saturday celebrating manned and unmanned missions, "Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration." Nicknamed "Curiosity," the NASA rover is engineered to roam Mars' rough surface and gather rocks for on-the-spot analysis. Discovery of organic compounds could provide clues to Martian history and environment. According to mission scientists, discoveries might even answer the age-old question: Could the Red Planet have harbored — or still harbor — life? The nuclear-powered craft is equipped with a robotic arm, a laser capable of vaporizing rocks and high-resolution cameras that transmit photos to Earth. For Olds, the mission began five months ago when the bid by his one-man company, Spacecraft Exhibits, was accepted by the New York museum to build the rover replica. The contract allowed a relatively short time to build the replica, and Olds worked on it every day, including after church on weekends. Friends and family viewing the six-wheeled rover under construction in his garage asked: "How can you tell somebody, 'Yeah, I can do that,' because you've never done it?" Olds "never thought much about it until they started saying it," he said. "There were challenges; everything's a challenge. The greatest part of that was really surmounted because (the museum) gave me plans that actually showed dimensions. Without that I couldn't have done it," he said. Mere photographs would not have allowed for an accurate representation of the 1-ton, $2.5 billion Curiosity, he said, the largest and most complex rover ever placed on the surface of another planet. While NASA's rover will travel 354 million miles aboard an Atlas V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center, Olds drove his replica the 1,100 miles to New York. Assisted by a museum crew, he spent a full day setting up the rover on the exhibit's tilted red sand dune. Michael Walker, spokesman for the museum that last year drew 5 million visitors, said Olds' rover replica features prominently in the Mars section of the exhibit. The exhibit remains on view until Aug. 12, the same month Curiosity is scheduled to land on Mars and begin its two-year search for life.
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