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Locked wheel, modified trajectory, worn equipment … What do we know about the difficulties that the Curiosity robot will encounter on Mars?

Galleries are piling up for curiosity. NASA’s rover has faced several difficulties in recent days as it continues its journey to Mars, which began almost a decade ago. On April 13, Curiosity temporarily stuck one of its wheels – badly damaged – into a rock on the red planet. Enough for the engineers who drive the robot several million kilometers away to sweat a cold sweat.

Temporarily blocked bike

On Wednesday, April 13, the Curiosity robot quietly continued its journey across the red planet when one of its six wheels got stuck in a rock. A pebble in a shoe that wasn’t that easy to get rid of. “If the situation could be easily resolved on Earth, it is more complicated when the navigators are 254 million kilometers away,” explains Twitter doctor Thomas Appéré.

Curiosity Wheel on Mars April 17, 2022. (NASA / JPL-CALTECH / MSSS)

Fortunately, the teams in charge of piloting Curiosity in California managed to get the robot out of this bad position. “If we don’t care about the health and activity of the rover, it has slowed our descent,” said planetary scientist Mark Salvatore on NASA’s website.

A detour due to stones

This is not the first time Curiosity has had to adjust its route. In early April, NASA teams decided to take a detour after seeing “alligator” rocks on their way. No, this is not a trace of animal life on Mars, but “wind-cut pebbles” that, according to NASA, look like crocodile scales. Eventually, an alternative way was found to avoid these stones while continuing to explore Mount Sharp, the mountain in the center of Gale Crater, notes Numerama.

Rock “Alligator” on Mars, March 15, 2022. (NASA / JPL-CALTECH / MSSS)

Increasingly worn equipment

These inconveniences are not really a surprise to NASA. It must be said that Curiosity has not passed the technical inspection for several years. As early as 2017, the US Space Agency drew attention to the state of its rover. Its two aluminum wheels, about 50 cm in diameter and equipped with nails, were severely damaged after several rides on sharp rocks. At the beginning of 2022, new photographs confirmed the pathetic state of the robot.

Curiosity Wheel on Mars January 27, 2022. (NASA / JPL-CALTECH / MSSS)

Over the course of the discoveries and a few miles, the terrain that Curiosity intersected at Gale Crater proved to be more dangerous than expected. “You have to imagine that it hasn’t rained billions of years. The rocks are blowing in the wind. (…) If they were on Earth, you shouldn’t walk on them, they could cut your shoes off!” warns William Rapin, a researcher at the Institute for Astrophysics and Planetology Research, with Numerama. In the face of this, people took daily control of the Curiosity route to prevent the autopilot from entering sharp areas … and tried to continue this Martian road trip until the end of the mission, scheduled for 2026.