Locked wheel, modified trajectory, worn out equipment… Here’s what we know about the difficulties the Curiosity robot encountered on Mars

The galleys gather for curiosity. The NASA rover has faced several difficulties over the past few days as it continues its road trip to the planet Mars that it began almost ten years ago. On April 13, Curiosity temporarily stuck one of its badly damaged wheels into a rock on the red planet. Enough to cause a few cold sweats for the engineers operating the robot a few million miles away.

A temporarily locked wheel

On Wednesday, April 13, the Curiosity robot was quietly continuing its journey on the red planet when one of its six wheels got stuck in a rock. A pebble in his shoe of which he was not so obvious to get rid of. “While the situation on Earth would be easy to resolve, it is more complex when the navigators are 155 million miles away.”To explain Thomas Appéré, Doctor of Planetology, on twitter.

A wheel of the Curiosity rover on Mars on April 17, 2022. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS)

Fortunately, the pilot teams from Curiosity in California managed to free the robot from this incorrect position. “Not worrying about the rover’s health and activity has slowed our descent.”reports planetary scientist Mark Salvatore on the NASA website (in English).

A detour due to rocks

This isn’t the first time Curiosity has had to change route. In early April, NASA teams decided to take a detour after seeing “alligator” rocks along the way. No, there is no sign of animal life on Mars, however “stones sharpened by the wind” in pace crocodile scales, according to NASA. An alternate route has finally been found to avoid these rocks while continuing to explore Mount Sharp, a mountain in the center of Gale Crater, Numerama notes.


More and more worn out devices

These inconveniences come as no real surprises to NASA. It has to be said that Curiosity has not gone through technical control for several years. The American space agency had already informed about the condition of its rover in 2017. Two of his aluminum wheels about 50 cm in diameter and equipped with crampons was already badly damaged after several rides on sharp rocks. In early 2022, new photos confirmed the sad state of the robot.

A wheel of the Curiosity rover on Mars on January 27, 2022. (NASA/JPL-CALTECH/MSSS)

Over the course of the discoveries and the few kilometers traveled, the terrain traversed by Curiosity in Gale Crater proved more dangerous than expected. “You have to imagine that it hasn’t rained in billions of years. The rocks are sculpted by the wind. (…) If they were on earth, you shouldn’t walk on them, they could cut your shoes open!” warns William Rapin, researcher at the Institute for Research in Astrophysics and Planetology, at Numerama. In light of this, humans have taken daily control of Curiosity’s route to prevent autopilot from going into sharp areas… and to try to continue this Mars road trip until the end of the mission, scheduled for 2026.

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