From Indiana to Mars: Our Work on the Mars Rover

Posted by Jeff Kirchner on Jun 6, 2012 6:50:00 PM
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In one of the more stunning scientific achievements of the past decade, two robot vehicles, collectively known as the Martian Exploration Rovers, landed on the surface of the planet Mars. Dubbed the Spirit and the Opportunity, the Rovers were sent to the Red Planet to accumulate valuable information on its mineralogy and atmospheric composition, as well as collect data on potential sources of water in anticipation of possible future human settlement. In short, a lot was riding on a pair of solar-powered, six-wheeled robots, both of which were less than the size of a typical commuter car.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA contacted our company to supply nitronic 60 to aid in the construction of the mag wheels for these vehicles. Because of   nitronic   60’s   great t oughness and given its incredible wear-resistance and light mass, it was a logical choice to incorporate the alloy into the overall wheel design.

In the end, we ended up supplying the JPL with nitronic 60 for an integrated spring feature in the wheels of the robots. In fact, our bid ended up becoming NASA’s first choice. With nitronic 60 helping the Rovers steer their way across the sandy, pitted Martian surface, the two Rovers were able to venture a record distance beyond their originally intended limits. Even as this blog is being written, one of the Martian Rovers, the Opportunity, is still fully mobile and operational, transmitting valuable data back to its JPL handlers back on Earth.

With another NASA-backed robot, the Curiosity, set to land on Mars this August 20th, we look forward to seeing events as they unfold. Meanwhile, it is nothing short of breathtaking for us to have supplied critical materials for this history-making venture. If only, for comparison’s sake, the foresters who chopped the original wood for the Santa Maria could have known their raw materials would allow for Columbus’s discovery of the New World. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that a small bit of an Indiana company can be found in the night sky.


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