This may seem like more than a slight stretch for some of you, but Ford had fun comparing two American innovators in go-anywhere capability – the gas-powered 2013 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor and NASA’s nuclear-electric-powered Mars Rover Curiosity.

The included infographic creates an unlikely face off in a comparison of, as Ford dubs it, “awesome off-road hardware.”

Each vehicle represents, according to Ford, the pinnacle of high-tech mobility on Earth and Mars.


Yes, and that’s where we’ll leave the imaginative marketing comparison contrived by the automaker, and branch a little far afield of our usual coverage to briefly overview one truly advanced electric vehicle which is more an autonomous traveling laboratory.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, known as Mars Rover Curiosity, is a mobile robot for investigating Mars’ past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

The Curiosity is scheduled to land near the Martian equator about 10:31 p.m., Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Aug. 6 EDT).

In the artist’s rendition provided by NASA, the rover examines a rock on Mars with a set of tools at the end of the rover’s arm, which extends about 7 feet (2 meters). Two instruments on the arm can study rocks up close. A drill can collect sample material from inside of rocks and a scoop can pick up samples of soil. The arm can sieve the samples and deliver fine powder to instruments inside the rover for thorough analysis.

The mast, or rover’s “head,” rises to about 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) above ground level. This mast supports two remote-sensing science instruments: the Mast Camera, or “eyes,” for stereo color viewing of surrounding terrain and material collected by the arm; and, the Chemistry and Camera instrument, which uses a laser to vaporize a speck of material on rocks up to about 23 feet (7 meters) away and determines what elements the rocks are made of.

The size of a car or small SUV, the rover weighs nearly a ton and its scientific payload is 10 times more massive than the instrument sets taken to Mars by previous rovers.

Because of its ambitious mission, the Curiosity rover was designed for a more powerful energy source than solar arrays, the technology used on the previous rovers. The Department of Energy built for NASA a nuclear-powered electrical system instead, called a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or MMRTG. It has no moving parts, but converts heat from a small core of plutonium into about 110 watts of electricity around-the-clock and all year.

Each of Curiosity’s six wheels has an independent drive motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have individual steering motors. This steering allows the rover to make 360-degree turns in-place on the Mars surface. The wheels’ diameter is double the wheel diameter on Spirit and Opportunity, which will help Curiosity roll over obstacles up to 75 centimeters (30 inches) high.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.