back to article NASA quandary: Should Curiosity channel Fast and Furious for Martian dune-buggy jump?

NASA scientists are preparing to put Curiosity through its toughest challenge yet, scaling a meter-high sand dune that could leave the Mars rover stranded, immobilized. Dingo Gap Let's go off-road! The boffins behind Curiosity are looking for the best possible route to the rover's next goal, Mount Sharp, but the two routes …


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  1. Herby

    Now where is the ...

    JATO bottle when you really need it!

    Power, baby! Power!!

    1. glenalec

      Re: Now where is the ...

      They already used it up!:

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Before they make the jump they need to talk to the pros. Start with Bo and Luke Duke on what to do and then talk to Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and Enos Strate on what not to do.

    1. Captain DaFt

      "Before they make the jump they need to talk to the pros. Start with Bo and Luke Duke"

      response: "Gun it, and hit the horn to play 'Dixie'!"

    2. AbelSoul

      Re: Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane

      Don't forget his faithful hound, Flash.

      And of course, Boss Hogg, cursing them crazy Duke boys in the General Lee.

  3. Mark 85

    So, they landed it in a hole...

    ... and now find there's only 3 ways out, two are escarpments and the other is blocked by sand? Not exactly an exit ramp from the freeway then.


    1) Fire the harpoon to stick in the ground on the other side and winch Curiosity out... err.. no.. it's rock or sand and there's no harpoon.

    2) Hook up the dozer blade and make a path.... err.. no... no dozer blade.

    3) JATO is out.

    4) Put on the sand tires to paddlewheel their way up the dune... err.. nope.

    Doesn't look good from here but hopefully, that sand is hardpack and it can climb out instead of all loose and fluffy and bog it down. Time to get some popcorn and see what happens.

    1. Wzrd1 Silver badge

      Re: So, they landed it in a hole...

      No dozer blade, but there are tools that could slowly excavate a path at the top of the escarpment.

      Or to probe the sand ahead on the dune.

      NASA is really, really good at going slow and careful.

      1. shinanygnz

        Re: So, they landed it in a hole...

        As the Cat would say, "laser our way through". Why else did they install one?

      2. Paul Uszak

        Re: So, they landed it in a hole...

        "NASA is really, really good at going slow and careful."

        Tell that to the relatives of the Challenger crew.

    2. Martin Budden Silver badge

      Re: So, they landed it in a hole...

      If the dune is hardpack on one side you can bet it's all loose and fluffy on the other side: they did say it is windblown.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dingo gap?

    Of the sparkling wines, the most famous is Dingo Gap. This is a bottle with a message in, and the message is 'beware'. This is not a wine for drinking, this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.

    Apols to MP

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Dingo gap?

      If they encounter a couple of nephriform objects there, which turn out to be, like the jelly donut rock was postulated as being, some kind of rotten fungal growth, would NASA give a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys about it?

      Apologies to DA. Via the dialling chant, obviously.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Something that has always confused me: why didn't they fit nice big, soft(ish) rubber wheels to the buggy? Wouldn't that be less prone to damage than aluminium wheels? And make it easier to drive it around on the rocky surface?

    Something like these:

    1. Holtsmark Silver badge

      Re: Question...

      ..Because rubber will behave very strangely in space / on Mars (Not to speak of the problems with de-pressurizing and re-pressurizing them).

      You get degassing, temperature effects etc.

      The moon rover wheels were not made of rubber. They were made of metal wire and plate:

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Question...

        The engineers aren't overly worried about the wheels getting a bit dog-eared because the torque is so high that even square wheels would allow the rover to travel about.

        And yeah, and Holtsmark has noted, a combination of aluminium wheels, adhesive and a rubber-like material would introduce far more variables than just aluminium alone.

        Your question has made me wonder "Why aluminium and titanium?". Though I can't find a quote from a JPL engineer on the internet, the answers given on the internet are plausible... for example, forming aluminium is a very mature technology, and denser (and thus thinner) titanium wheels would be more prone to point stress.

        1. cray74

          Re: Question...

          The damage to the wheels makes me wonder, "Why not steel?" But I already know the answer: with NASA's prior rover experience, aluminum wheels seemed like a sure bet. I would've stuck to proven wheel materials, too.

          Still, in the future I'd give steels another look. There are some nice precipitation-hardened stainless steels popular in the aerospace industry (like 15-5, 17-4, 17-7, etc.) that have great strength (much better than aluminum and, yes, titanium alloys, which are over-rated); good hardness (again, well beyond Al and Ti alloys); great wear resistance (something Al and Ti aren't known for); good toughness (though I'd have to check to compare to Al and Ti alloys); and they retain those properties to cryogenic temperatures well below anything seen on Mars. There's also a lot of industry experience in shaping those stainless steels.

          Actually, since corrosion probably isn't much of an issue on Mars, I'd also want to poke into some of the lower strength, higher toughness maraging and Aermet steels. Stainless steels are nice, but they compromise their properties some to stay shiny. Beasts like maraging and Aermet alloys don't bother staying pretty for the public.

          Because of the point loading issue Dave 126 brought up, you'd want the wheels to be thick (about the same as the current aluminum wheels) so there'd be a weight penalty. But a weight penalty in a mission-critical item like your wheels isn't necessarily a vice.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Question...

      In fact, why didn't they send a backup F1 pit team with several sets of tyres? And a proper Land Rover with a winch?

      After all, the conspiracy theorists probably think it is all taking place somewhere in the Arizona desert.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Question...

      The typical high on Mars if 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Rubber doesn't have an issue with that, but it will at say at -67 degrees Fahrenheit. Then you also have other environmental issues since Mars doesn't have an Ozone layer nor a magnetic field to protect it from radiation. A pressurized tire is also acceptable to punctures. They also wear as well. A metallic tire has a much better chance or surviving longer than a rubber tire. Oh, extreme cold can cause a rubber tire to become brittle. Mars has a temp fluctuation of 100 degrees, so making a tire to cope with that and durable would be a bit of a challenge.

      1. annodomini2

        Re: Question...

        Rubber tyres are also heavy.

  6. Thorsten


    Mount Sharp is still in Antarctica on Earth. Curiosity would have to scale that ramp pretty fast to achieve escape velocity and be able to make it to Mount Sharp. Eventually.

    On the other hand, going slowly might get it on the road to Aeolis Mons on Mars.

  7. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Stuck in rut and virtual rabbit hole of ones own making is still no answer though

    How very wise, IT. One certainly doesn't want to have to take chances with something as precious and precocious as Curiosity.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well going all "Fast and Furious" in real life led to a crash and burn, so I hope they don't repeat that outcome.

  9. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    Judging by the look of that dune in stereo and my childhood experience of trying to ride a bicycle in the sand I would say: "NASA, don't do it. The rover will get stuck and the only solution will be to send a roadside assistance engineer, which you won't be able to afford"...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why has no-one thought of...

    the frickin' laser?

  11. Huntsman

    A daft question...

    Can someone explain why the sand always looks wet whenever you see the rover tracks? Is it to do with the lower pressure on the planet? Serious question!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: A daft question...

      Re the 'wet looking sand' - firstly I'm not sure about the particulate size, but I think it's an illusion mainly because it's difficult to grasp the scale of these images. Bear in mind the wheels in that picture are half a metre across. That's why the tracks it leaves have such clear definition - because they're so damn big!

      From Wikipedia: "Dimensions:... The rover is 2.9 m (9.5 ft) long by 2.7 m (8.9 ft) wide by 2.2 m (7.2 ft) in height //...// Mobility systems: Curiosity is equipped with six 50 cm (20 in) diameter wheels in a rocker-bogie suspension."

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: A daft question...

      My feeling is that the top layer is either sun bleached and so darker underneath like on the moon or maybe it's only the ultra-fine particulates on the surface, ie the stuff capable of being moved by the storms in that very, very tenuous atmosphere,which is lighter in colour than the bigger sand grains underneath.

    3. Kubla Cant

      Re: A daft question...

      I suppose it looks wet because the impressions are sharper.

      I believe the maximum gradient of a heap of sand is a function of the cohesiveness of the sand and the strength of gravity. Wet sand takes sharper impressions because it's cohesive so the micro-structures that constitute the impression have steeper edges. Impressions in Martian sand are sharper because of the lower gravity.

      It's also possible that impressions in dry sand are rapidly blurred by air movement. The thin atmosphere on Mars would reduce this effect.

      Disclaimer: I know absolutely nothing about soil science and I'm making this up as I go along

  12. Gods Right Hand

    Mars Rovings

    ref Your esteamed article on the Mars rover and the snap of it manoeuvring in the dust:



    I am, for my many sins, occasionally tasked with inspecting electrical wiring in its finished state.

    Kindly forgive my relapses into high technical language below.

    I note:

    Wot appears to be std* cable ties used and they fixed tight/near

    Single, but for x1 fix point seen, std* thin ones used.

    All on wot appears to be a mixture of cables and sleeved cable bundles, and poss' pipes - ?

    'Tis likely that ye 'affecting elements' will degrade stressed placcy' bits no matter how good they are.

    Kindly apply the below to situation as is.

    I humbly recommend:

    1.1: At least use wider type 'bundle' ties and they be doubled/ paired together.

    Don't over-tighten !

    (A dab of super-glue on ONE cable/ sleeve outer will fix the tie there and stop it slipping)

    1.2: If indeed cables are wot is seen, over-sleeve cable bundles with a lightly shrink wrapped sleeve

    Transparent ones are available if you want to watch the cables move under.

    Seal the sleeve ends with some decent caulking (not that stuff from B&Q)

    and shrink tight-ish here so the muck won't get in the sleeve.

    2.1: Lub between the adjacent cables in bundle if that not done

    (Std WD 40 should do it -

    Sparky's posh silicone grease would pick the dust up)

    . . . ..................

    and you'll get your Sparky Badge.

    3.1: If you want any more:

    See Windmill Products

    Birdhall Lane, Cheadle Heath, Stockport

    for other nice cable tying thingies various.


    Inter-Voice (or wotever they're calling themselves this week)

    (Server Builders)

    at Gatley, Stockport

    for how to rig cables proper.

    I haven't the time, the inclination or the bus fare to go over to Yankishire and fuck the fucking gormless fucking twats who half rigged that glorified handcart.

    Kindly pass my humble observations on to them.

    Best Regards

    P. Dantic


    Gods Right Hand.

    + + +


    1: ref *'Std' above:

    Do hope the ties and all other exposed cable surfaces are

    posh anti-UV&everything else std - ??????

    2: Parting Overview:

    Orrrrrr . . . ...... etc . . ............

    Have they sent a mechanic with it ?

    (Phone Kerry at Project Camelot - she'll know)

    + + +


    Did I mention the exposed fixings to gear other various ?


    Top Tips again:

    A dab of super-glue in the cable closure box when fixed and the cable tail trimmed-off

    ensures the very occasional occurrence of lock-fin failure is obviated.

    + + +

    That's enough.

    I'm going for a wee and a cup of tea now.

    + + + + + +

  13. Nunyabiznes

    Go full redneck.

    Hold my beer and watch this!

    1. Semtex451

      Re: Go full redneck.

      Did'nt Wolowitz try that already?

      1. Nunyabiznes

        Re: Go full redneck.

        I don't think it was his beer he wanted her to hold.

  14. John 62

    The thing is, although the speed seems gung-ho, on earth, you really do need to drive fast enough to maintain momentum over the surface to avoid the wheels getting bogged down.

    1. aregross

      ^This.... and maybe consult some of the Dakar Rally folk who have more experience doing this sort of thing.

  15. Andus McCoatover

    My vote would be NO.

    Just a gut feeling.

  16. PaulM 1

    It looks like curiosity is already over the crest of the dune

    The best place to look for information is

    1. PaulM 1

      Re: It looks like curiosity is already over the crest of the dune

      "The Sol 533 toe dip went well, leaving the rover's front wheels on the crest of the dune. The Sol 534 plan was to drive over dune into Dingo Gap, but late in the day it was cancelled. The Rover Drivers had some concerns about the terrain and it was decided that delay the drive to Sol 535 in order to give them more time to plan the drive."

      1. PaulM 1

        Re: It looks like curiosity is already over the crest of the dune

        Here is a panorama of the lovely strata to the left of dingo gap. Notice that is you do no processing at all of Curiosity photos then the sky is blue. Perhaps Mars photos are realy taken in Arizona after all. The conglomerate and sandstone beds in this view certainly look very Earth like.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It looks like curiosity is already over the crest of the dune

          Cracking image that.

          I wonder what caused the corral (or stalagmite/tite) shaped rocks centre of frame (look at the large grey slab and then up about the same distance as the slab is long). I expect it is just normal erosion but this is the internet...

          Another thing that confuses me is the depth of field, to eyes used to Earth's atmosphere the focus seems to suddenly drop at the back.

          Hyperfocal meets Mars.

          1. PaulM 1

            Re: Depth of field

            The blurry hill behind the outcrop is Mount Sharp/Aolis Mons which is Curiosity's eventual destination and is still about 5 km away. Presumably it is blurry because Curiosity's camera was focussed on a point about 5m away. One thing to remember is that distant views on Mars can be blurry even when the camera is focussed on infinity because of dust in the atmosphere.

            PS: If you want proof that Curiosity has crossed the Dingo Gap dune on Mars/Arizona, here it is:


  17. Zmodem

    so much for being a nuclear powered tank

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