On Friday (Dec. 20), NASA's Mars Science Laboratory team announced that they were monitoring Curiosity's wheels. The rover's six wheels appear to have sustained accelerated damage as the one-ton rover drives over the rocky terrain inside Gale Crater. Although the aircraft-grade aluminum is designed to withstand some dents and holes, some of the rips and gashes in between the wheels' treads are causing concern. In this selection of "before and after" photos from Curiosity's raw image archive, we've pulled some photos taken by Curiosity's robotic-arm mounted MAHLI camera. The dates and the day (sol) of Curiosity's mission are noted.
Curiosity's middle-right wheel is shown here 34 days (sols) after the mission touched down in Gale Crater. Some red dust can be seen lightly covering the wheel. Very few dents are evident.
Note: Some minor contrast and brightness adjustments have been made to the raw imagery.
454 sols later, significant wear and tear can be seen on the same wheel. On the top, a gash in the aluminum skin is evident.
Close up and comparison of the gash in the aluminum wheel skin as seen on sol 488 (Dec. 20).
Curiosity's front-right wheel as seen on sol 177 of the mission.
The same front-right wheel as seen 311 sols later. Note the punctures on the inside of the wheel.
Until now we've seen minor damage to Curiosity's wheels, likely well within the wear expected for nearly 3 miles of roving. But the rover's front-left wheel is exhibiting one of the larger gashes with a long flap of aluminum bending toward the inside of the wheel. Shown here is the wheel in sol 177 when only minor dings and scratches can be seen.
By sol 488, the same wheel is dented and damaged, but of most concern is the large hole that is forming near the bottom of the photo.
The same wheel, zoomed in and compared between sol 177 and sol 488. Arrows indicate the spreading of the crack through the wheel's skin, along the tread.