Memory Metals for Airless Tyres

If you’ve visited the Recovered Materials Vault at Groom Lake, you know how the Visitors love their molecularly engineered metamaterials, and “memory metals” in particular. From the Apollo-era Lunar Roving Vehicle to the latest nuclear-powered Mars cars, NASA has had great difficulty equipping their rovers with tyres that are light, can function in vacuum or rarefied atmospheres, withstand abrasive and reactive surface material and temperature extremes, and can negotiate uneven and obstacle-strewn terrain without damage. Here’s what eight years on Mars did to the lightweight wheels on NASA’s Curiosity rover.

Well, it takes a while for news to travel from Zeta Reticuli to Cleveland, Ohio, where researchers at NASA’s Glenn Research Center have discovered that memory metal metamaterials, with their extraordinary resistance to elastic deformation, may make the perfect tyres for planetary rovers and even vehicles on Earth, as demonstrated by a bicycle with airless tires that can ride over a field of upturned nails with impunity.