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SPOTLIGHT
07.07.2010

We’ve Got Wheels!

Wheel Installation
Wheel Installation
In this picture, the Curiosity rover is sitting on top of six shiny 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.

Follow its journey as it embarks on one of the most exciting expeditions of our time.


In the middle of this image, three wheels are shown raised by a lift, with engineers on both sides of the wheels in the cleanroom, where the Curiosity rover is being assembled. The wheels are made out of aluminum but have a black coating, which prevents the wheels from slipping. The wheels are attached to dark poles, which bend like “joints.” Several black and red cable wires are visible coming out of the poles. An engineer stands in the background holding a clipboard and looking closely at the rover. A desk and various tools are visible behind the wheels on the right.Full Size Image
In this picture, engineers are preparing Curiosity’s wheels for installation. Six new wheels were installed onto the rover on June 28 and 29, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., where the rover is being assembled.
These wheels are 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter, making them larger than the wheels of a car. Each wheel has its own motor, giving the rover independent six-wheel drive. The rover can swerve and turn in place a full 360 degrees. 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 means the rover can roll over large rocks and dips without tipping over. The rover can also climb steep hills, up to 45 degrees. Curiosity’s wheels have “cleats,” similar to those soccer players have on their shoes, which provide grip and prevent the rover from slipping while going over rocks or climbing up hills of soft sand.

Curiosity is the centerpiece of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, which is expected to launch in late 2011, and touch down wheels-first in summer 2012.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In this picture, the Curiosity rover is sitting on top of six shiny wheels. The picture was taken from the side of the rover and only four wheels are visible. The wheels have a black coating which makes them slip resistant. On the right of the rover is an engineer who is wearing a white “bunny suit” to prevent him from getting any unwanted Earth microbes onto the rover. The engineer is holding one of the lift cables used to put the rover onto the wheels. A pink heavy-lift crane is visible over the rover. The crane is used to lift the rover body within the room. Behind the rover, lots of lab equipment and other parts are scattered around the clean room.Full Size Image
In this picture, the Curiosity rover sports a set of six new wheels. The wheels were just installed on June 28 and 29 in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. This set of wheels will set “foot” on Mars in the summer of 2012. The rovers’ launch is scheduled for late 2011.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
In this video clip, the Curiosity rover’s wheels are shown hoisted on a pink crane and moving closer to the rover’s body. Half a dozen engineers are gathered around the wheels and are helping set the first three wheels into place. The camera shows a close up of one of the wheels. The wheels are black and have a slip-resistant coating. Next, a dozen engineers hover over the rover as the next three wheels are set in place. Equipment within the cleanroom is then withdrawn away from the rover and the rover is visible by itself with its six wheels in place.

Video Options
In this video clip, engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory install a set of six wheels onto the Curiosity rover, which is destined for Mars in late 2011. These will be the first set of wheels to ever touch down on another planet. On previous missions, airbags were used to land the rovers. On this mission, however, the rover will descend by a special tether system that will lower the rover onto the surface with wheels first.

Video Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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