Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory or MSL, is the size of a mini-Cooper. It was placed inside a 7.6 meter (25 foot) diameter high vacuum chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Engineers are now conducting an extensive regimen of tests that will check out the performance and operational capabilities of the rover under Mars-like conditions.
Curiosity enters the 7.6-meter-diameter space-simulation chamber on March 8, 2011 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The rover is fully assembled with all primary flight hardware and instruments. The test chamber’s door is still open in this photo. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Since the atmosphere of Mars is very thin – roughly 0.6% compared to Earth – most of the air was pumped out to simulate the meager atmospheric pressure on the surface of Mars.
The internal chamber temperature was decreased to minus 130 degrees Celsius (minus 202 degrees Fahrenheit) using liquid nitrogen flowing through the chamber walls to approximate the Antarctic like bone chilling cold. Martian lighting conditions are being simulated by a series of powerful lamps.