There's no stopping these two science sisters.
Meet Camille and Genevieve Beatty, who at 13 and 11 are being hailed for building a functioning scale model of the Mars rover that is now a permanent fixture at the famed New York Hall of Science.
The Beatty rover is a near replica of the early version NASA sent to Mars in 2004 and was unveiled in early August with hoopla that's made the red-headed North Carolina siblings science rock stars.
"To have two young girls building our Mars rover is exactly the kind of thing we want to have happen here," said Margaret Honey, president and CEO of the science center that sits on the grounds of the 1964 Worlds Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in the borough of Queens.
The girls' drive to build their rover was inspired by a documentary on the robotic exploration of the Red Planet.
But their love of science all started with a little "destructive curiosity," says their father, Robert Beatty, who guided their enthusiasm for engineering.
"Camille kept taking things apart. She would bring me a dismantled remote-control box or a dismantled clock, and she’d say, ‘Dad, what’s this little green thing in here.’”
He didn’t have all the answers, but he was intrigued by her curiosity and asked if she wanted to build something herself.
You bet they did.
From remote controls . . . to robots
Then life in the Beatty household started to get interesting. The sisters went from taking things apart to putting things together.
"We would just experiment," said Camille. "We started small, using off-the-shelf RadioShack parts. Then we decided let's go huge with it . . . and build a robot!"
[Related: Kids get hands-on with robots at this Brooklyn business]
Over the course of two years, the Beatty family built several robots — ones that could roll, crawl and even fly.
The family also built a website chronicling the girls' robot-making adventures. Initially meant to keep family and friends up to date on various projects, the Beatty Robotics site quickly gained a following.
From North Carolina . . . to the Big Apple
Even the folks at the New York Hall of Science were impressed. They were already planning to redo the Mars exhibit when they decided to commission the girls and their dad.
"We didn't set out to look for two girls to build our Mars rover. We were actually looking for companies that had robotics expertise," said Honey.
The Beatty girls' Mars rover isn't a toy or a model. It's a remarkable working version with more than 750 parts, many of them built by the family from scratch. It has rotating wheels and sensors that keep it from bumping into walls. It also has a high-tech suspension system that allows it to grapple with rough terrain.
"We studied the actual rover very closely," their father said. "The pictures, the drawings. ... We did everything we could to replicate it in every way."
[Related: More evidence that ancient Mars could support life found by old rover]
A family that builds robots . . .
What's the secret to keeping children’s interest in longer-term projects? A former mechanical engineer, Robert Beatty believes in sparking the girls’ interest but letting them do all the work.
"They get the screwdriver or soldering iron. They are doing the work and so stay very engaged."
He says the experience has had a very positive role in the girls' lives outside the workshop, as well.
"One of my main goals in this was to give them a sense of self-empowerment. If they set up a goal, they can go and do it — whether it’s a job, climbing a mountain or building a robot."
The best part about building robots? Spending time with their dad. "It's made our bond amazingly close, between all of us," Camille said.
Follow Sheila Dharmarajan on Twitter @SheilaD_TV.
- Mars rover
- Robert Beatty
- New York Hall of Science