As a part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, NASA launched a car-sized robotic rover called Curiosity on November 26th, 2011 to explore the Gala Crater on Mars. It has been over four years since its landing in 2012, and the robot has functioned flawlessly without requiring a major repair, but not anymore. The space agency has revealed that the six aluminum wheels that support the Mars rover are beginning to show signs of damage. Two small breaks have appeared in the metal grousers of the left middle wheel. The good news is that the wheels are still capable of going more distance, enough to complete the planned mission.
The Curiosity rover landed on Mars in August of 2012 and has maneuvered over a distance of 16 km ( 10 miles) on the red rocky surface of Mars. The wheels were first checked in January, and no damage was found then, but during another routine checkup on March 19, the wheels showed breakage in the metal. A few dents and holes were found in the wheels in 2013 which concerned NASA, as the wear was faster than expected. Two of the treads called grousers have shown signs of damage and tests show that when three treads on a wheel break, it has reached 60 percent of its service life.
The Curiosity wheels have a diameter of 20 inches (50 cm) and a width of 16 inches (40 cm). The wheels have 19 zigzag treads that project out to provide traction. Curving titanium spokes inside the wheels provide strong support to the wheel.
The Curiosity is climbing higher on the slopes of Mount Sharp, exploring the sand dunes of the Murray formation to look for geological formations that show signs of climate change of billions of years. The rover has already moved a distance of 16 kilometers and only needs to move another 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) to reach its final destination. As the wheels have begun to wear, the mission control is trying that the Curiosity avoids sharp rocks as much as possible.
The Project Manager for Curiosity, Jim Erickson at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said, “All six wheels have more than enough working lifespan remaining to get the vehicle to all destinations planned for the mission. While not unexpected, this damage is the first sign that the left middle wheel is nearing a wheel-wear milestone.”
We are looking forward to the Curiosity Mars Rover completing its journey and bringing the world better insights of the neighbor planet.