Sat 06 March 2021:
Nasa’s Mars rover Perseverance has taken a short drive two weeks after touching down, mission managers have said.
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.
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So far Perseverance and its hardware, including its main robot arm, appeared to be operating flawlessly, said Robert Hogg, deputy mission manager. The team was yet to conduct post-landing tests of the rover’s sophisticated systems to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.
“It went incredibly well,” said Anais Zarifian, a JPL mobility test engineer, calling it a “huge milestone”.
NASA displayed a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.
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
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.
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.
Nasa has named the landing site the Octavia E Butler Landing in honour of the award-winning American science-fiction writer. Butler, from Pasadena, California, died in 2006 at age 58.
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