BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Curiosity, the first Mars rover, might be living its last moments. After the last check-up, the scientists noticed small breaks in its aluminum wheels. These are the latest signs of damage, which have occurred since the latest checking. Despite wearing out, Curiosity continues its mission of exploration of the Red Planet.
The damage consists of two breaks in the raised treads, called grousers. The scientists spotted the signs after an image check on the wheels performed on March 19th. These were not present at the last check-up on January 27th, so they must have appeared quite recently.
Breaks accumulating quickly in Curiosity’s wheels
Jim Erickson, the Curiosity Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, assured us that Curiosity is not in danger. All six wheels of the rover are in a state which will allow it to reach all the designated destinations in the mission. The damage came as no surprise, and it might be indicating that the left middle wheel might be approaching the end.
Researchers started an advanced program of monitoring the wheel damage of the rover, as well as a program of wheel testing after, in 2013, they noticed how damage was starting to accumulate in the wheels faster than they had anticipated. They discovered that, when three grousers break, the wheel has reached 60 percent of usefulness.
The exploration is not compromised
Fortunately, Curiosity has already explored most of the regions of interest in the study of Mount Sharp on Mars. Thus, researchers say that their exploration mission is in no danger. Ashwin Vasavada, one of the scientists involved in the project, is optimistic about Curiosity.
“This is an expected part of the life cycle of the wheels and at this point does not change our current science plans or diminish our chances of studying key transitions in mineralogy higher on Mount Sharp.”
Since it first landed on Mars in August 2012, the rover was able to discover that the environment was once suitable to host microbial life. The former freshwater lakes on Mars had all the chemicals necessary to sustain life, and a chemical used by many microbes on Earth. Curiosity has driven 16 kilometers so far and it will probably need to drive 6 kilometers more to complete the mission.
Researchers tried to avoid consistent damage to the wheels, as they mapped the much too harsh terrains and changed the rover’s route. Small damage was inevitable, but Curiosity is close to the completion of its mission.