Perseverance rover can travel 200 metres a day, but scientists need to conduct tests and safety checks before it ventures further.
NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance has taken its first, short drive on the surface of the red planet, two weeks after the robot science lab’s picture-perfect touchdown on the floor of an enormous crater, mission managers said on Friday.
The Perseverance rover first ventured from its landing position Thursday, two weeks after landing on the Red Planet to seek signs of past life.
Taking directions from mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled four metres (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to its left and then drove backwards another 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) for a total of 6.5 metres (21.3 feet) during its half-hour test within Jezero Crater, site of an ancient, long-vanished lake bed and river delta on Mars.
“It went incredibly well,” Anais Zarifian, a JPL mobility test engineer for Perseverance, said during a teleconference briefing with reporters, calling it a “huge milestone” for the mission.
The roundabout, back and forth drive lasted just 33 minutes and went so well that the six-wheeled rover was back on the move Friday.
Perseverance is capable of averaging 200 metres of driving a day.
NASA displayed a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.
Another vivid image of the surrounding landscape shows a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large, dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance – marking the edge of the river delta.
I’m on the move! Just took my first test drive on Mars, covering about 16 feet (5 meters). You’re looking at the very beginning of my wheel tracks. Many more to make. pic.twitter.com/7tFIwWFfJ4
— NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 5, 2021
So far, Perseverance and its hardware, including its main robot arm, appear to be operating flawlessly, according to Robert Hogg, deputy mission manager.
But JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover’s many instruments before they will be ready to send the robot on a more ambitious journey as part of its primary mission to search for traces of fossilised microbial life.
The team has yet to conduct post-landing tests of the rover’s sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.
As soon as the system checks on Perseverance are complete, the rover will head for an ancient river delta to collect rocks for return to Earth a decade from now.
Scientists are debating whether to take the smoother route to get to the nearby delta or a possibly tougher way with intriguing remnants from that once-watery time three to four billion years ago.