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Mars Curiosity rover's wheels look all beat up, but NASA isn't fretting

Cracks and holes and broken treads, oh my.

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Curiosity's MAHLI camera snapped this view of one of the rover's wheels in late January 2022.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Just like I inspect the bottom of my hiking boots from time to time, NASA's Curiosity rover schedules in regular check-ups of its wheel treads. Mars hasn't been kind to the rover's aluminum wheels, which have taken a serious beating from rocks since it started exploring Gale Crater in 2012.

Curiosity snapped some fresh looks at its kicks in late January, and the views led to some concerned social media discussions (and some humorous ones) about the state of the wheels and what it means for the rover's ability to rove. Good news: Curiosity is doing OK.

The wheel image that attracted the most attention is quite a looker. It shows multiple holes and broken grousers (raised treads), cracks and bent metal. If your car tire looked like that, you'd be breaking out the jack and the spare. But the wheel issues have been known for a long time and the Curiosity team already implemented mitigation measures to extend their life.

NASA JPL spokesperson Andrew Good told me Curiosity had been performing wheel imagery every 500 meters (1,640 feet), but that distance was recently extended to every 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), an indication that efforts to protect the wheels are working well. "The current predicted odometry remaining is expected to be sufficient to support Curiosity throughout the remainder of the mission," Good said in an email.

Curiosity has six wheels and some look better than others. NASA has learned a lot from the elder rover's experiences. The newer Perseverance rover has a different wheel design with curved treads.

Curiosity isn't slowing down. The rover is currently checking out some intriguing rocks and it sent back a fetching selfie late last year. The team will continue to monitor the wheels, but the robotic explorer is doing remarkably well considering the rough and rowdy landscape it's been rolling over for nearly a decade.