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Hudson Cooper - Columnist
Posted 3/11/21

A few weeks ago, I was glued to my television to watch the Mars rover Perseverance land on the red planet's surface. With modern camera technology earthlings were able to watch the descent to the …

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A few weeks ago, I was glued to my television to watch the Mars rover Perseverance land on the red planet's surface. With modern camera technology earthlings were able to watch the descent to the surface and the exciting touchdown. Perseverance became the fifth operational American rover on Mars joining Sojourner, Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity.

I then researched and found a NASA site that showed images of Perseverance moving around the rubble of rocks on the surface of Mars. One still photo showed its long line of tire tracks deep into the sandy terrain.

Having spent the previous day replacing two worn tires on my car and fixing another that had a slow leak, I began thinking about tires. More specifically I started thinking about the longevity of earthbound tires. If the tires on Mars rovers can motor around on that rocky-strewn surface and plow through layers of sandy deposits, why can't my tires go through a winter without having my “tire guy” cleaning out the metal gizmo so the tire stays inflated.

By the way, that gizmo is known as the Schrader Valve. It is where you press the air hose to inflate your tire. Most of us wind up letting more air out than putting it in because it takes practice to properly make the connection between the air hose and the valve.

I hoped a phone call to Irving Halsey, President of the Tire Dealers of America, whose slogan is “Do Tread on Me,” would provide some answers. Before I could ask Mr. Halsey about the tires on the Mars rovers, I told him I was researching a column which opened the verbal floodgates.

He began with “Hey, let me tell you where the word tire comes from. It is short for the word attire. All because a wheel with a tire was known as a dressed wheel. Get it? Dressed…attire…tire.”

That led to him babbling on about Harvey Firestone, measuring tread and checking tire pressure in cold weather. When I finally could get a word in edgewise, I inquired about the tires on the Mars rovers. He hesitated before laughing and saying, “What do you think I am, a rocket scientist?” before hanging up.

Today's car tires have a lifespan of six years depending on mileage, maintenance and condition. Even if the treads are still deep enough, the rubber will eventually dry and crack leading to a flat or blowout.

If tires on rovers that travel to Mars, can survive a landing and then have no problems plowing over jagged rocks and through a foot of sandy soil, why can't we manufacture tires that have a longer lifespan. It seems to me that modern science should be able to manufacture tires that at least last for the life of your car.

Speaking of things that do not last, what ever happened to white wall tires? Years ago, getting a car with white wall tires was quite popular. White wall tires had their heyday in the 1930's. In 1934, the Ford Company offered white walls on their new cars for $11.25.

White wall tires get their unique look by the application of white rubber on the sidewalls. Painting a white circle does not work because the elements of driving make the paint flake off and peel.

White walls decreased in popularity in the 1970's as car manufacturers relied on unique designs to sell cars. Buyers paid more attention to interior options than the look of their tires. So, like the ashtrays and cigarette lighters that used to be in all cars, white wall tires are just a memory.

The scientists at NASA are hoping that the active rovers find some sort of life on Mars. At the end of a long day at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory monitoring the Mars rovers, the scientists drive home and like many of us try to avoid potholes and debris that could cause tire failure.

I hope that eventually one of them will figure out how to make tires that last for the life of your car. If they do, I suggest the brand name be Perseverance.


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