NASA is pleased to say that it has reinvented the wheel.
A new technology called "spring tire" can dampen rovers as they traverse rocky or inhospitable landscapes. The tires are covered with a damage resistant mesh to help the wheels have a good grip. The alloy that NASA used, nickel titanium, also has a "memory", an ingenious solution for the Achilles heel of the tires of the previous spring, which remained dented after rolling on a specially sharp rock. When tested on a simulated Martian terrain at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the new tires literally bounced back.
NASA has been constantly searching for better tire design for decades. In 2009, NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland began working with Goodyear to design a "superelastic tire". for the Martian terrain. The invention of the new spring tire arose from a casual encounter between the engineer Colin Creager and materials scientist Santo Padula.
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"As soon as I entered, I saw the tires and I looked [Creager] and I said: 'Are not you having a problem with plastic deformation in this? ", said Padula in a NASA video while sitting next to Creager." And he smiled, as he is at this moment, and said: "Yes." And I said, "I have your solution".
Creager had never heard of shape memory alloys, and the two began collaborating on what would become the chainmail mesh.
High performance tires fulfill three main benefits. They can allow explorers to explore a territory that had previously been too inhospitable. They adapt to the ground like memory foam and do not sink in the ground in comparison with the rigid wheels, reason why they can support heavier loads. And they absorb more impact energy, which means they could be used for future manned vehicles that would be designed to move faster.
"We wanted to see if a structure could do more than just be a static piece of material," Raúl Polit Casillas, a systems engineer at JPL who worked at the factory, told him Wired earlier this year year.