NASA eyes gaping holes in Mars Curiosity wheel

The rough and rocky landscape of Mars continues to take a toll on the wheels of NASA’s Curiosity rover. As part of a routine checkup, Curiosity snapped some new images of its wheels this week. 

Most of the photos don’t look too alarming, but one in particular shows some dramatic holes and cracks in the aluminum. 

The Mars rocks are giving Curiosity’s wheels a hard time.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA has been monitoring Curiosity’s wheel damage for years, watching it increase from dents to holes to actual cracks in some of the raised treads. Images from early 2017 delivered the first evidence of the tread breakage, with the left-middle wheel showing the most stress.

The car-size Curiosity rolls around on six wheels. NASA has already implemented measures designed to protect them, including a software update that adjusts the speed of the rover’s wheels to reduce pressure from rocks. 

NASA said in 2017 that it fully expects the wheels to last for the life of the mission. The rover has traversed over 12 miles (19 kilometers) across Mars since landing in 2012.

The Curiosity team is preparing to take another look at the wheels after the rover takes a short drive in Gale Crater as it continues its studies of the Mount Sharp area. It’s currently observing a localized dust storm, which won’t affect the rover’s ability to do its work.

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