A great deal of time and energy is put into designing the instruments and cameras that go to Mars on rovers, but none of those will do any good if the vehicle is dead in the sand after a few weeks.
That’s why NASA engineers are designing a new generation of rover wheels that can cope with the rugged terrain of the red planet. NASA’s current Mars rover, the famed Curiosity, was designed with six aluminum wheels, each milled from a solid block of metal. As a result, NASA began to notice punctures and dents in the wheels after just a year of operation on Mars. NASA knew it needed a new generation of rover wheel, and that’s where the spring tire came in. NASA initially worked with Goodyear in the mid-2000s to develop a prototype spring tire.
NASA plans to use shape memory tires on future Mars rovers, possibly even on the upcoming 2020 rover that will take over for Curiosity in the next few years.