The mission of NASA’s Curiosity rover rover, which has been exploring the surface of Mars since August 7, 2012, could be coming to an unexpected end due to a miscalculation of the engineers who designed it.
The Rover Curiosity uses 6 metallic aluminum wheels to move through the rugged terrain of Mars, however These wheels were recently analyzed, and it was found that the damage they have suffered from the Martian rocks is higher than the estimated, putting their structure in danger.
We all know that launching an object into space is an extremely expensive undertaking, and NASA is sparing no effort to reduce the cost of its missions, which in many cases means reducing the weight of the devices being shipped. It is for this reason that the Curiosity designers chose as the material for the rover’s wheels, a thin layer of aluminum, which, however, was extensively tested on the ground proving grounds proving to be strong enough.
Curiosity wheel damage
The engineers’ surprise was great, however, when in a recent check of the condition of the wheels, it showed images of cracks and holes in the surface of the wheels, compromising their stability. From that point NASA has had to redesign the route map of the rover and qualify the terrain through which it will pass according to the degree of possible damage that the rover would suffer to its wheels when traveling through it. It is for this reason that the rover has been backing up those rockier roads in an effort to protect the front wheels, which are the most affected by stone damage. In some cases, the rover has even had to deviate from its route and take longer paths, to avoid rocks and very steep terrain.
In the coming weeks, the rover will undergo its greatest test, as it must cross a 200-meter-long red zone full of pointy rocks. This area is in the middle of the rover’s last destination on its route plan. NASA reported that they are going to take this journey easy, but warned that there is a high probability that the front or middle wheels of the rover will break on that terrain and prevent it from continuing.
If this mission is successful, Curiosity would still have to continue walking another 3.5 kilometers to reach the base of the mountain to which it is heading. And to date, it has already traveled about 8.5 kilometers of the 19 kilometers that it was predicted to be able to travel.
Fun fact: the wheels of the rober have a pattern or projections on their wheels that when traveling through the land generate a sound in Morse code that constantly spells “JPL”