NASA wants you to help land the Curiosity rover on virtual Mars

It's a lofty task ahead of you — attempting to land the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. This after a journey even hardened NASA engineers are calling "seven minutes of terror." Lucky for you, you can get in on the mission virtually, without having to risk billions of space bucks.

Produced in conjunction with Microsoft, Mars Rover Landing is free on the Xbox 360 and plays utilizing the Kinect motion sensor. It's available right now in the Xbox Live Marketplace.

The game allows players to take control of the Curiosity spacecraft as it hits the Martian atmosphere, where it can expect a rocky and unpredictable ride. To complete your mission, you witness the rocket-powered sky crane lower Curiosity to the surface via cables and then fly off to crash-land where it can't do any damage.

With the game, the NASA team tried as much as possible to replicate what the real engineers will be doing as they land their craft safely on the surface in August.

NASA says its goal in creating the game was to raise awareness for the Curiosity rover and its overall mission of planetary exploration. Letting people virtually play at landing the space vehicle in their $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory Mission is not a bad way of reminding the public, press and politicians, "Hey guys, we're still here!"

Yep, NASA is still here and still asking questions and exploring our solar system and beyond.

With the one-ton Curiosity rover scheduled to land Aug. 5, the Mars Science Laboratory mission will focus on the Gale Crater — and whether it is, ever was or perhaps ever could be capable of supporting microbial life. It will use an arsenal of instruments to carry out its mission, including lasers that can cut into rock (who knows what's in there?) and gear that can detect organic compounds — the basis for the building blocks of life as we know it.

"Technology is making it possible for the public to participate in exploration as it never has before," Michelle Viotti, JPL's Mars public engagement manager, said in a NASA statement. "Because Mars exploration is fundamentally a shared human endeavor, we want everyone around the globe to have the most immersive experience possible."

I'd say it doesn't get much more immersive than having the amazing chance to perfect your virtual landing of the Curiosity rover. This type of hands-on activity could just inspire a whole new generation of space explorers.

For a complete list of all the activities and tools related to the Curiosity landing visit NASA's website.

NASA, via Space.com