More than a year’s worth of puttering around on Mars has done a number on the Curiosity rover’s six aluminum wheels. Look at all those dings, pits and holes.
“Dents and holes were anticipated,” said Jim Erickson, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project, which operates Curiosity,” but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so. It appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain. The wheels can sustain significant damage without impairing the rover’s ability to drive.”
To that end, the project team is looking toward minimizing the amount of driving Curiosity will do over rugged terrain. Its recent travels have taken it over numerous sharp rocks embedded in the Martian soil as it tracks toward Gale Crater’s central peak Mt. Sharp.
Curiosity’s wheels are 19.6 inches (50 cm) in diameter or bigger than a car tire and each has its own motor, making the rover a full-fledged “six-wheel drive” vehicle that can get itself out of many a tight spot. The rover can even do a full 360-degree turn in place. About the only thing the engineers didn’t consider was a spare.