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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.

New Wheels

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

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