Reinvent the Rover Wheel CHALLENGE

Gold Stars Announced
Challenge Details



Challenge Closed


Are you ready to think like a NASA engineer? We want you to reinvent the wheel – literally! Use your creativity to come up with a rover wheel design that you think would best explore Mars. Create a digital 3D model of your reinvented wheel and submit your design along with an image of the 3D model and short description of your entry. While digital 3D models are encouraged, young inventors in Grades K-5 can opt to provide an image of a sketch or mockup instead of a 3D model. Exceptional entries may be featured in the gallery with a NASA gold star. Check out the RULES for all details!

NASA’s Perseverance rover has six wheels made of aluminum designed to drive across sandy, rocky, and hilly Martian terrain. The new and improved tire treads, or grousers, were designed by NASA-JPL engineers to be a series of slightly S-curved lines. This approach builds on the lessons learned from NASA’s previous rovers - Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity. Spirit for example, got stuck in a sandy area. Curiosity’s wheels are still going strong, but are starting to show wear and tear. And this is just Mars! NASA Glenn engineers are looking back to lessons learned from exploring the moon to design new metal spring tires made with a shape memory alloy, and NASA has previously developed prototype rovers like the ATHLETE rover with multi-function wheels.

There is much more Mars exploration to come – from returning Mars samples to Earth and looking onward to sending astronauts. There is no doubt many more rovers headed for the red planet, so we want to know your creative ideas for traversing across Mars! Check out the EDUCATION RESOURCES section below for more info on rover wheels and design considerations like wheel size, tread, material, and more.


Instructions for Students and Teachers


K-12 Students who attended US public, private, or home schools during the 2019-2020 school year (including U.S. territories & possessions and schools operated by the U.S. for the children of American personnel overseas). Student interns and children of employees of Future Engineers are not eligible to enter.

Grades K-2
Grades 3-5
Grades 6-8
Grades 9-12


Please review the Challenge Rules and FAQ prior to creating your entry.

Challenge Rules FAQ

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Dive Into The Challenge

Lesson Plan Details and Challenge Tips!

1. Links & Lessons

Learn About Mars & Rover Wheels

2. Digital Tools

Learn to create a 3D model

3. Brainstorm & Design

Explore wheel design factors
Links & Lessons
Digital Tools
Brainstorm & Design
Links & Lessons
Links & Lessons
Digital Tools
Brainstorm & Design


Learn about Mars and NASA's Mars Exploration Program. Take a closer look at the wheels on NASA's Perseverance Rover and explore other rover wheel designs. What do they have in common and how are they different? Investigate Mars and the different conditions rover wheels have to perform in to help steer your wheel design.

Brainstorm & Design

Mars rover wheels need the ability to ​climb sandy dunes, traverse rocky flats, and not get stuck on hills. Also - don't forget that Mars has one third the gravity of Earth and it's really cold! The brainstorming categories below will help you start thinking about your wheel design - from basic considerations to unlimited possibilities!
Brainstorming Idea
Wheel Specs

What will the diameter, radius, and width of your wheel be? Wheels need to be big enough to drive over rocks, small enough to fit on a spacecraft, and strong enough to support all of the equipment on board. Perseverance, for example, weighs 2,260lb (1025kg) on Earth and can drive over rocks as tall as 31 inches. 





Brainstorming Idea
Wheels Uniformity

NASA's Perseverance and Curiosity rovers have 6 identical wheels, which are all-wheel drive with a motor on each wheel. The front and rear wheels have steering capability. On your rover, will each wheel be the same or could different wheel designs improve your rover's performance? How many wheels will your rover have and why?





Brainstorming Idea

Research different materials you could potentially use for your wheel design. Historically, wheels have been made of aluminum because it is lightweight, performs well in the 100-degree daily temperature swings, and can provide some puncture and fatigue resistance. What will your wheel be made of? Would a typical car tire work on Mars? Why or why not?




Brainstorming Idea

Tread is the grooves, shapes, and patterns on a wheel's tire. (Also called grousers.) Tread is important for moving safely across Martian terrain. Curiosity has 24 chevron-pattern treads, while Perseverance has 48 gently curved treads intended to be more resistant to penetration while providing a firmer grip on the surface. Mars rover wheel treads have changed over the years, but why? What will the height, thickness, and shape of your tread be? How many treads will your wheel have and how will they be spaced out on your wheel?

Brainstorming Idea
Smart Wheels

If your wheel was "smart" what would that mean? Could you add sensors or cameras to help your wheels navigate tricky terrain or achieve better performance? How could added features help with navigational intelligence or preventative maintenance? 








Brainstorming Idea
Multi-Function Wheels

Think about all of the possibilities! Maybe your wheel can do its job of driving around Mars and do another one too. Think about what kind of additional functions a wheel might have. Could it help gather data, conduct scientific missions, or have mechanical functions that help a future astronaut like drilling, digging, or converting ice to water? There is no limit to what your wheel might do! Check out the ATHLETE rover video for inspiration about multi-function wheels. 


Digital Tools

Students are welcome to use any 3D design tool to create their rover wheel. Are you new to 3D design? Check out some 3D design tool options below that are free for students.
Online Service
Make basic 3D models by stacking blocks together to create interesting 3D shapes. Good for beginner students to get interested in 3D design and 3D printing. COPPA compliant site for kids under 13.
Mac or PC (Cloud Connected)
Take your skills to the next level with Fusion 360, a professional 3D design tool. It's good for making basic parametric shapes or complicated curves. Autodesk products are offered FREE for students, but you do need a student license to run the program.
Online Service

Fix, cut, repair, and downsize your exported STL file.

Build & Iterate


Group Size

Split into 8 teams


Assign each team a video lesson and have them present what they learned



Educator tools

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The “Reinvent the Wheel” Challenge is presented in support of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. The Perseverance rover is a robotic scientist weighing 2,260 pounds (1,025 kilograms). The rover’s astrobiology mission will search for signs of past microbial life. It will characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. The spacecraft is targeted for a July 2020 launch and is expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021. The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

In Support of NASA's Planetary Science Division