Starts With A Bang

The Achilles Wheel of the Mars Curiosity Rover (Synopsis)

The start of a tear in one of Mars Curiosity’s wheels. Image was taken more than two years ago. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.

“By refocusing our space program on Mars for America’s future, we can restore the sense of wonder and adventure in space exploration that we knew in the summer of 1969. We won the moon race; now it’s time for us to live and work on Mars, first on its moons and then on its surface.” -Buzz Aldrin

When the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars in August of 2012, it seemed that we had the ultimate successor to Opportunity in place. That older, over-engineered rover is still going after more than 12 years on the red planet, and Curiosity is leaps and bounds ahead in terms of technology: nuclear powered, loaded with cameras, faster, larger, more technologically advanced and with many more science instruments than any of its predecessors.

A Curiosity self-portrait from 2015. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Yet along with all that extra technology, Curiosity seems to have a weak point: its wheels. After landing 10 kilometers from its destination — Mount Sharp — it took more than two years just to arrive at its base. By that point, its wheels had literally been shredded by a combination of the terrain and our own inability to anticipate what we would have found on Mars. As a result, Curiosity may be the first rover that fails to outlive the generation that came before.

Damage to Curiosity’s left-middle wheel, sols 546, 660, and 708. Image credit: NASA / JPL / MAHLI / Emily Lakdawalla.

Come get the full scoop over on Forbes, as we look into the “Achilles Wheel” of this rover!