Mars Curiosity is quite a machine, a lander, rover, mobile chemical laboratory and robot geologist. But its designers were human, so hidden in the wheels is a geeky tech-y joke. What is it?
Tech Rep— Curiosity’s wheels are multifunction. Their primary use case–obviously–is locomotion. However, NASA uses visual evidence to estimate distances and scales on Mars, so Curiosity’s wheel tracks are designed to aid in this effort. A series of irregular holes placed in each of Curiosity’s six wheels create a repeating pattern as the rover drives across the Martian desert.
Every time Curiosity’s wheels complete a revolution, they print the Morse Code for JPL on the Martian surface in honor of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which oversees the Mars Science Laboratory project.