To date, Curiosity has traveled less than a kilometer (about .5 mile) from its landing site. There’s concern in some circles that the visible damage to its wheels may limit the longevity of the Red Planet exploratory mission, which scientists had hoped would extend beyond its two-year primary mission.
Not to worry. On the Blue Planet, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) scientists run tests on Curiosity’s “twin,” the Scarecrow. It carries the same weight on Earth as Curiosity carries on Mars.
Matt Heverly, lead rover driver for the MSL mission at NASA’s JPL in Pasadena, CA, reassures, “The wear in the wheels is expected. The skin of the wheel is only 0.75 mm thick, and we expect dents, dings, and even a few holes due to the wheels’ interacting with the rocks.
“We have driven Scarecrow about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in the Marsyard over rocks and slopes much harsher than we expect for Curiosity. There are some dents and holes in these wheels, but the rover is still performing well.
In conclusion, Heverly says, “We will continue to characterize the wheels both on Mars and in the Marsyard, but we don’t expect the wear to impact our ability to get to Mt Sharp.”
Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), mounted on its robotic arm took the above image. Periodically, MSL rover drivers command the MAHLI to survey rover’s undercarriage and wheels, checking for damage and monitoring dust build up.
Source: Discovery News, May 22, 2013