Gradually, the wheels of the Curiosity rover began to wear off on Mars. This is normal. But should we worry when we see the gaps photographed by the rover at the end of January in these structures?
Ten years March : In August 2022, the brave Rover Curiosity celebrates a symbolic anniversary, spent on the surface of its first decade Planet Red. Since arriving, the rover has traveled More than 27 km Wheeling. But, on Mars, there are no flat, unpaved roads. Over time, the wheels of Curiosity inevitably get damaged.
Recently, a robot was sent to Earth Many pictures Its wheels. Captured on January 27, 2022 by MAHLI (“Mars Hand Lens Imager”), one of Curiosity’s many cameras. It is installed in the rover arm of the rover. It is mainly used to study the composition of rocks, but also to take pictures of the rover.
Yes, that is the planet you see through the wheels
Looking at these pictures taken at the end of January, it is tempting to worry seriously about the mission: the wheels of Curiosity are being drilled with big holes! ” When you start to see the planet through the wheels, something is wrong, it is true that it is not normal », Confirms Numeroma William Robin, CNRS researcher at the Institute for Astrophysics and Planetology Research. Curiosity is loaded 6 wheels 50 cm in diameter, All equipped with their own machine. They are made of aluminum, studs and springs.
In fact, their strength has been tested since Curiosity first orbited Mars. ” The wheel problem is a chronic problem that took us by surprise very quicklyThe scientist remembers. We are on a planet that does not know much. What we know about Mars, we owe Previous roversSmall and explored areas were selected for the larger area of their landing zone. ⁇
Sharp rocks that “can cut your shoes off”
Curiosity was placed in the gale abyss, selected for its variety of rocks. But there was a parallel to that, continues William Robin. ” The fact that we landed on a much steeper platform than before was an exciting revolution. Thanks to the guidance systems, we had the opportunity to land in a very precise manner. On unfamiliar terrain, we descended near a very high mountain. There, we discovered a new type of rock. “From the first year of travel to Mars, especially the sharply proven rocks.” You have to imagine that it has not rained for billions of years. The rocks are carved by the wind. […] If they are on earth, you do not have to step on them, they can cut your shoes! ⁇
At the beginning of the mission, Curiosity took a short detour to the analysis. Then having to go miles, he resumed his journey. Although it was planned to move relatively quickly (for a rover, a few tens of meters within an hour), Curiosity had to slow down instead. ” We discovered that the wheels were damaged by certain types of rocks and we learned to live with them. The scientist summed up. The teams had no choice but to deal with these rocks, which posed a risk of causing problems with the rover’s wheels.
Therefore, it was decided not to use the automated navigation system anymore, which allowed Curiosity to move forward freely. He does not have the skill to find the sharpest rocks. So they are human beings, Rover drivers Those who choose the path of the rover every day and, with experience, know how to anticipate problems with the wheels.
“Obviously, it’s going to get worse”
While the images of the Holy Wheels are interesting, William Robin assures Curiosity that there is still a chance of them rolling on Mars. ” When you look at the damage, of course it starts out that it is not very pretty. But the wheels still have a structure, the motors are powerful and work well. Because we know how to control damage over time, we know we have enough time ahead of us. With years and years of experience, teams have now mastered the art of wearing wheels on the surface of Mars.
Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory draw a map of the damage, including each small metal bar. ” Of course, it will only get worse.Numeroma interviewer warns, But we know that it is not an indestructible rover. We have goals in mind and we have a lot of time to achieve them. These holes will start to attract more and more, but a pioneer we will master over it. ⁇
What if the wheels get damaged one day so much that Curiosity can’t move? Can the mission continue (assuming the rest of the rover continues)? ” After a while, NASA will definitely consider completing the missionWilliam Robin believes. She does not devote much time because maintaining this task is very expensive. Everything depends on where the rover is stationary: if its hand works, if the place is interested in science, we can carry out analyzes.
But before the wheels fail, another component of the rover seems to have failed. For example, the on-board computer: a few years ago due to memory issues already had to switch to a second copy of the “backup”. ” In the coming months or years you will hear of issues other than wheels, which is a complex machine. ⁇
After all, when climbing Mount Sharp in the center of the Gale Greater, Curiosity needs its wheels more than ever. ” We have relied heavily on wheels as we have now reached this mountain which is 6 km highThe scientist concludes. It’s time to shine! Every meter we climb helps reconstruct the history of Mars. It took a while to get close to this building, all the meters now obtained are additional knowledge about the evolutionary history of the past climate of Mars. Yet the benefits we get from riding this mountain are numerous. ⁇