Mars Curiosity Rover Suffers Wheel Slippage During Martian Mountain Climb

May 26, 2015 12:48 PM EDT | Matt Mercuro

Earlier this month NASA's Mars Curiosity rover was all set to investigate a "geological contact" where two different rocks meet when it encountered an unexpected problem.

Slippery wheels.

The rover's six wheels slipped during three out of four attempts made from the base of the "Jocko Butte" feature to the boundary in the "Logan Pass" area between May 7 and May 13, according to NASA.

"Mars can be very deceptive," said Chris Roumeliotis, Curiosity's lead driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in a company statement. "We knew that polygonal sand ripples have caused Curiosity a lot of drive slip in the past, but there appeared to be terrain with rockier, more consolidated characteristics directly adjacent to these ripples."

Roumeliotis added that the Curiosity team tried to drive around the ripples to "firmer terrain" to give the rover a better shot, but they were unsuccessful.

The slippery issue forced the team to get creative.

"We decided to go back to Jocko Butte, and, in parallel, work with the scientists to identify alternate routes," Roumeliotis said.

By using images previously captured by Curiosity and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the team found an alternate route that the rover could take.

On May 21, Curiosity completed a 72-foot drive up slopes as steep as 21 degrees to bring the rover close to the Martian outcrop. The team was determined to reach the target area since the geological contact could expose new environmental conditions on the Red Planet.

Curiosity landed on Mars back in Aug. 2012 to help experts figure out if the planet could have ever been habitable for life in the past.

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