Three Wheels and a Mountain

Mosaic of Curiosity’s underside taken with the rover’s MAHLI instrument (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)

NASA’s Curiosity rover takes a peek at a peak — the central peak of Gale Crater, that is! — as well as three of its Morse-code etched wheels in this picture, made from two images acquired with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) instrument on September 9.

The camera is located in the turret of tools at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm. The Sol 34 imaging by MAHLI was part of a week-long set of activities for characterizing the movement of the arm in Mars conditions.

The main purpose of Curiosity’s MAHLI camera is to acquire close-up, high-resolution views of rocks and soil at the rover’s Gale Crater field site. The camera is capable of focusing on any target at distances of about 0.8 inch (2.1 centimeters) to infinity, providing versatility for other uses, such as views of the rover itself from different angles.

Curiosity’s 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 system allows 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.

Here’s to lots of roving and exploring ahead!

ADDED: And if you didn’t know already, Curiosity’s wheels have holes cut into them that leave the letters “JPL” stamped into the Martian soil in Morse code! Check out the pic below:

Curiosity’s wheel tracks stamp “JPL” in Morse as they go! (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

One Comment

  1. Anne Bonney says:

    Isn’t it amazing what they can do on a Hollywood back lot? – just kidding.


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