July 8, 2010

Curiosity Sporting New Wheels

We've Got Wheels! Six of them! And these wheels aren't meant for the concrete roadways, bustling freeways, or sleepy highways"”they're destined for off-roading on Mars.

The Curiosity rover team just installed six shiny aluminum wheels on the rover, giving the rover its "legs." Unlike previous missions that used air bags for landing on the Martian surface, Curiosity is touching down wheels first!

The rover, which is about the size of an SUV, has wheels that are 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter, making them bigger than a car tire. Each wheel has its own motor, giving the rover independent six-wheel drive"”that's better than an average car with two-wheel drive. But engineers didn't stop there; the rover can swerve and turn in place a full 360 degrees.

Now, that's cool but you may be wondering, how's the ride? The suspension system is based on the "rocker-bogie" system, which was used on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers and the earlier Pathfinder missions. This system allows the rover to roll over large rocks and dips without tipping over. The rover can also climb steep hills, up to 45 degrees.

Did you know that the rover has something in common with World Cup soccer players? Yes, the rover wheels have "cleats," similar to those soccer players have on their shoes. These cleats provide grip and prevent the rover from slipping while going over rocks or climbing up hills of soft sand.

With the wheels in place, Curiosity is one step closer to rolling on Mars.


Image 1: In this picture, engineers are preparing Curiosity's wheels for installation. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image 2: The Curiosity rover sports a set of six new wheels. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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