Spinning spokes: Cornell scientists develop method for using rover wheels to study Martian soil by digging holes Cornell News

After the twin Mars Exploration Rovers bounce onto the red planet and begin touring the Martian terrain in January, onboard spectrometers and cameras will gather data and images — and the rovers’ wheels will dig holes. Working together, a Cornell University planetary geologist and a civil engineer have found a way to use the wheels to study the Martian soil by digging the dirt with a spinning wheel. “It’s nice to roll over geology, but every once in a while you have to pull out a shovel, dig a hole and find out what is really underneath your feet,” says Robert Sullivan, senior research associate in space sciences and a planetary geology member of the Mars mission’s science team. He devised the plan with Harry Stewart, Cornell associate professor of civil engineering, and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena.