The Mars Curiosity rover has six wheels, and NASA likes for all of them to stay in contact with the ground whenever possible. The Curiosity team had to change up its science schedule when telemetry data showed one of the rover’s wheels was hanging out in the air.
Curiosity recently made a drive up an area called Western Butte that left one of the middle wheels dangling about 6 inches (15 centimeters) off the ground.
“This meant we needed to do a short ‘bump’ to adjust the rover’s position ready for Monday’s planning and had to postpone the contact science we want to do while the rover sits at its highest point on Western Butte,” wrote Claire Newman, an atmospheric scientist with Aeolis Research, in a mission update on Monday.
Curiosity’s mid-air wheel was an easy fix and the rover is back on track making observations of Mars’ atmosphere and surface. A raw image snapped by the rover over the weekend shows a glance at two of the vehicle’s wheels, but no clear look at the wheelie action.
Popping a wheelie applies extra force to the rover’s other wheels, so NASA wanted to correct the machine’s positioning. The space agency applied a new algorithm to Curiosity in 2017 to help protect its damaged wheels and reduce the rover’s wheelie problem. It’s all part of ongoing efforts to protect the longevity of NASA’s only functioning Mars rover.
The aluminum wheels have suffered from cracks and holes caused by the rough and rocky terrain. The damage looks a little scary, but NASA expects the rover to soldier on for many more miles. Hopefully with minimal wheelies.
Meet the Mars 2020 rover launching this year