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Wheel Wear and Tear on the Red Planet

This image was taken by Mastcam: Left (MAST_LEFT) onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on December 26. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

There’s no fear of a flat!

But new images back from the NASA Curiosity Mars rover show that the rock-studded Red Planet terrain is causing wear, tear and holes on the rover’s aluminum wheels.

In fact, future drives of the machine may be charted to cross smoother ground where available.

“Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so,” said Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project, which operates Curiosity.

“It appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain. The wheels can sustain significant damage without impairing the rover’s ability to drive. However, we would like to understand the impact that this terrain type has on the wheels, to help with planning future drives,” Erickson said in a JPL press statement.

Curiosity’s recent driving has crossed an area that has numerous sharp rocks embedded in the ground. Routes to future destinations for the mission may be charted to lessen the amount of travel over such rough terrain, compared to smoother ground nearby.

Data gleaned about the wheels and the damage they have sustained would likely play into future robotic and human-driven rover designs.

By Leonard David

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