Mars a tough place for a country drive – Curiosity’s wheels look like heck

Close up of one of Curiosity’s wheels photographed on Dec. 22 shows plenty of dings, small holes and one big tear. Click to see the damage up close. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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.

Would you drive your car on this? View of Curiosity’s surroundings on Dec. 20, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“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.

Engineers ready Curiosity – and its brand new set of aluminum wheels – before launch last year. Credit: NASA

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.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

7 thoughts on “Mars a tough place for a country drive – Curiosity’s wheels look like heck

      • The crew of the 1st Mars One mission to land would pull a major PR stunt if they’d decide to venture towards Gale Crater and up the slopes of Mount Sharp although by the time they get there, MSL might need more than the 1 spare (hey buddy, can spare some fissionable material ?).
        Plus since, according to popular literature, all men are “from” Mars, it’s only a matter of time before the MAA is open for business. :)

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