Curiosity spins its wheels!

By Phil Plait | August 21, 2012 2:48 pm

As a prelude to actually hitting the road, engineers at JPL commanded the Mars Curiosity rover to move its wheels, testing to make sure everything worked.

Everything worked! Here’s a fun little animated GIF showing the rear right wheel wiggling:

Sweeeeet. Countdown to someone adding a dubstep audio track in 3… 2… 1…

Note the sundial at the top right; you can see the shadow of the rover moving as time elapses. If you watch the ground you can see the perspective of the camera changing a bit as the rover rocks, too; the wheel movement is causing the rover to move slightly with each frame of the sequence.

In more good news, yesterday the engineers extended the 2-meter long boom arm. The arm has a set of tools at the end, including a camera, a scoop, a drill, a sifter, and a spectrometer (to determine the composition of samples). So it looks like Curiosity is about ready to start poking around Mars!

Bon voyage, you laser-eyed nuclear-powered extraterrestrial explorer. Go do science!

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Curiosity, Mars, rover

Comments (26)

Links to this Post

  1. A spectrum of graphs | theatre of consciousness | August 21, 2012
  1. Random Rambler

    The Martian sundial is pretty hawt.

  2. Steini

    AAh good old duckt tape..

  3. Richard Carnes

    Do you know how much time lapsed during the turn? From looking at the shadow, it looks like anywhere from five to ten minutes for the wheel to complete one right-to-left turn. Just curious, really…

  4. Worlebird

    @Richard Carnes #3 – I’m totally guessing here, but I’m wondering if perhaps Phil might be a little wrong on that count. I am thinking most of the shadow movement is not so much from time elapsing (and thus sun angle changing) as from the angle of the rover itself shifting as the wheel turns. notice that other shadows in the image do not seem to shift nearly as much as the shadow over the sundial. More importantly, the shadow does not extend evenly as the wheel rotates – as you watch while the wheel moves counter clockwise from one extreme of it’s position to the other, the shadow over the sundial actually dips – gets shorter for a moment. This coincides with the noticeable shift in camera perspective as measured by the shifting of the ground in the image.

    I suspect what is actually happening here is that when the wheel is pointed nearly straight up (from the camera’s perspective in this image), the front end of the rover is raised or lowered slightly from the level it is at when the wheel is turned to the extreme left or right. Additionally, I can’t imagine that turning the wheel like this would take as long as that shadow would indicate were it due to time lapse – unless they are purposefully rotating it at a glacial pace. I really think this is the effect of the rover tilting slightly up and down as the wheel rotates.

  5. The Bobs

    Sure is taking along time to get going. Opportunity did far more in its first two weeks on the ground. I’m not talking movement here; pictures and data have been minimal so far from MSL.

    @4 I’m with you there. I think the rover did shift slightly when the wheel was turned.

  6. Fry-kun

    Watching the gif with “Gangnam Style” playing in the background 😉
    ♪ Heeeeeey, sexy lady! ♪

  7. Sam H

    @6 perhaps its because of how incredibly advanced the systems are, I think?? And they probably couldn’t operate the pancams while they were calibrating the ChemCam, its laser, or the software to control that and its arm and internal lab. Either way, I don’t think we’ll need to wait for more than a week for it to start moving and return some interesting science. :)

  8. Robin

    Yup. Curiosity is far more complex than Opportunity and Spirit are. There’s a lot more to check out and calibrate.

  9. carbonUnit

    “So it looks like Curiosity is about ready to start poking around Mars!”

    You turn your right wheel in,
    You turn your right wheel out,
    You you turn your right wheel in
    as you check it all out.

    You do the Martian Pokey
    and prepare to rove around,
    That’s what it’s all about!

    Oh. POKING. Well, that’s different!

  10. Casey

    I’ve been wondering for a while what the design of the wheel tread is all about. I saw a reference to “cleats”, but that didn’t fully explain the unusual tread pattern with the squared sections on a small portion of the wheel. Does anyone know?

  11. George Martin

    It was announced during today’s teleconference that they will doing a short drive with Curiosity in the upcoming Sol. It will not be going far, roughly the length of Curiosity itself. They will do a turn and then back up and Curiosity will be pointed 90 degrees away from where it is pointing now.

    For whatever reason, at present I can not find a link to the audio of the teleconference. But you can see the visuals they showed here:


  12. Dan Galletti

    Hey Phil,
    Catch the one tiny rock just below the sundial on the deck. It moves as the time lapse does. Appears to be bouncing around somewhat, where the other rocks don’t.

    Sure hope these rocks that were blasted (or blown as later news reports mention) onto the deck during the powered decent of the sky crane don’t cause a problem later on if they start bouncing and moving around.

  13. George Martin

    If I remember correctly from the teleconference, the wheel shown moving was the right rear wheel. They also tested the other three steering wheels.


  14. George Martin

    For those who will have the opportunity to drop in, there is a scheduled televised Curiosity conference for Wednesday the 22nd, at 11:30 AM PDT (aka 18:3o UTC). It should be noted that the event it self and the time are tentative based on the availability of the people scheduled. These days their work schedule is based on Martian Sol days and when the sun is up for Curiosity, not Earth UTC days.

    You can find the current details here:


  15. Chris

    @12 Casey
    The wheels actually have JPL in Morse code. Also when they are driving along they can have some record of how much the rover have moved for the wheel turning.

  16. George Martin

    @17 Chris said The wheels actually have JPL in Morse code.

    You can see a full picture of this here:

    Going from bottom to top, left to right in the picture, (the “L” looks a little weird in the picture):

    J Dah Dah Dah dit
    P Di Dah Dah Dit
    L Di Dah Di Dit


  17. George Martin

    It’s been Too Long! The Army taught me the code in 1967.

    J is Di Dah Dah Dah which is what is shown in the picture.

    Stupid me!



    Dah Dah Dah dit is used for a character in the Cyrillic alphabet if I remember correctly.

    P.P.S I learned the code at Fort Devins, just in case anyone understands that reference; 05H20.

  18. WJM

    Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle yeah
    Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle yeah
    Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle yeah
    Wiggle wiggle yeah yeah

  19. fos

    Sundial? It looks more like a joy stick. I wonder who that is for. Conspiracy? 😉

  20. Ian

    I read elsewhere that one of the two wind sensors has been permanently damaged, perhaps by pebbles kicked up in the landing making contact with cabling. What a pity – I wonder why they didn’t cover up such sensitive areas? I know this would’ve added to payload weight but when it’s already over a ton, what difference would it have made?

  21. oooooohh look at this!
    The landing photographs seamlessly stitched together


    And Lego is considering a model!!

  22. MaDeR

    They did not expected that much pebbles during skycrane ops.

  23. Basilisk

    The cynic in me is going “Jeez… wonder how long it’s gonna take before someone says ‘Look at the way the shadow is moving! That proves the thing is faked and is being broadcast from a sound stage somewhere!””

  24. Casey

    Thanks for explaining the wheel patterns, Chris and George! I had somehow missed this on… wikipedia. 😐


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