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NASA Spots Breaks on Mars Curiosity Rover Wheels -- Will This Impede Data Gathering and Mission to Mars?

Mar 23, 2017 04:43 AM EDT
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Now that NASA has an approved budget supporting the journey to Mars, it is more likely for the mission to push through. This means any obstacle is crucial to the completion of the mission. Recently, engineers observed breaks on Mars rover's wheels. Will it impede operations and slow down the progress of the manned mission to Mars?

Traversing Mars is not a walk in the park. The unforgiving terrain is now taking its tall on the agency's Mars Curiosity rover. Two small breaks were discovered on the aluminum wheels of the rover during a routine check. The breaks indicate wear and tear as the rover performs its tasks. Engineers said the breaks were discovered on raised treads called grousers on March 19.

"All six wheels have more than enough working lifespan remaining to get the vehicle to all destinations planned for the mission," Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "While not unexpected, this damage is the first sign that the left middle wheel is nearing a wheel-wear milestone."

The breaks were observed on one side of the Mars rover's wheels, according to Space.com. The new breaks add to the already existing damages to the battered wheels of Curiosity.

Breaks on the wheels were first investigated in 2013 when the wheel-longevity testing was performed on Earth. Based on the tests, when three grousers on the wheels show break, it means that they have passed 60 percent of their life. During the time of the testing, Curiosity has already driven over that fraction and of the total distance needed to explore key regions of Mount Sharp.

Although signs of wear and tear on the Martian rover's wheels are now evident, engineers and Curiosity Project scientists Ashwin Vasavada are not worried for they have already anticipated such incident.

They said that the breaks are expected in wheels and that it won't affect any scientific plans and scientific objectives on Mount Sharp. The rover is scheduled to visit "Vera Rubin Ridge" to analyze hematite and sulfate contents.

Engineers assured the public that the rover can still drive around the surface of Mars to perform its planned tasks. This is not the first time the rover has encountered glitches. A few times last year, it entered "safe mode" due to different technical problems which rover engineers managed to troubleshoot from Earth.

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