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08.20.2008

Driving Test is a Wheel Success

This animated gif is a combination of three still images. The first image shows the body of the Mars Science Laboratory rover inside a clean room, supported by its six huge wheels and suspension system. Specially fitted platforms underneath the wheels hold the rover in place and prevent it from moving. The second image shows an engineer for scale kneeling beside one of the rover's wheels. The top of the wheel is almost as tall as his knee. The top of the chassis is higher than the top of his head. He is wearing a white coat, cap, and shoe covers that help shield the rover from dust and dirt carried in by humans. The third image shows two engineers, one woman and one man, assembling the rover's lightweight yet rugged suspension system. The lead engineer holds a clipboard with notes as she closely watches the other engineer drilling a hole into one of the struts (part of the load-bearing framework).

Like a racecar in need of high-performance tires, the next rover to explore Mars needs a rugged set of wheels. Like the racing tires, the off-road wheels must perform flawlessly. Together with a rugged suspension system, they must be lightweight, strong, and agile enough to handle extreme terrain.

Recently, engineers took the Mars Science Laboratory rover for a test drive in the lab. They used manual transmission -- their hands -- to move the rover forward and backward, watching for any backlash in the suspension. A tiny amount of jiggle could be dangerous to such a large vehicle. The test was a success -- the rover leaned forward or backward less than one degree.

After the test, engineers removed the wheels so they could fill the chassis with science instruments, batteries, and electronic gear. It's all part of preparing the rover to wear out all six wheels in fruitful exploration of Mars!

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Higher Res Images:
  The first image shows the body of the Mars Science Laboratory rover inside a clean room, supported by its six huge wheels and suspension system. Specially fitted platforms underneath the wheels hold the rover in place and prevent it from moving.
Full Size Still Image
The second image shows an engineer for scale kneeling beside one of the rover's wheels. The top of the wheel is almost as tall as his knee. The top of the chassis is higher than the top of his head. He is wearing a white coat, cap, and shoe covers that help shield the rover from dust and dirt carried in by humans.
Full Size Still Image
The third image shows two engineers, one woman and one man, assembling the rover's lightweight yet rugged suspension system. The lead engineer holds a clipboard with notes as she closely watches the other engineer drilling a hole into one of the struts (part of the load-bearing framework).
Full Size Still Image

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