Goodyear "Spring Tires" ready for extraterrestrial off-roading

Goodyear tires are useless…on the moon.

The lack of air, extreme temperatures and rubber-degrading solar radiation make traditional pneumatic tires a bad fit for harsh, extraterrestrial environments. But astronauts and (perhaps more likely) robots still need to get around.

So the company teamed up with NASA a few years ago to develop a new generation of rides for the next generation of space explorers, and they are currently on display at the Geneva Motor Show.

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An advancement of the mesh tires worn by the Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicles of the early 1970’s, which were also developed by Goodyear, the so-called “Spring Tires” feature a system of 800 individual load-bearing steel springs that arch away from the rim, forming the familiar donut shape.

As the tires pass over obstacles, they conform to the irregular surfaces as well if not better than even an aired-down pneumatic tire can, offering added traction, not to mention comfort for the men or machines riding in the vehicle that they are attached to.

Although they are not immune to damage, Goodyear says that each serious impact would probably damage just one spring at a time, leaving the rest fully-intact, while a pneumatic tire would puncture and go flat in the same situation.

There currently no firm plans to use them on any manned vehicles headed into space -- mostly because there aren’t any -- but Goodyear is exploring the idea of using them closer to home. The same indestructible qualities of the Spring Tire that make them appealing for use several hundred miles away from the closest paved road, let alone service station, holding similar appeal for extreme off-roaders and other terrestrial explorers.

You’ve got to start somewhere.