NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has performed its first drive on Mars, covering 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) across the Martian landscape. The drive served as a mobility test that marks just one of many milestones as team members check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance. Once the rover begins pursuing its science goals, regular commutes extending 656 feet (200 meters) or more are expected.
Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility testbed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said: “When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive. This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin. The rover’s six-wheel-drive responded superbly. We are now confident our drive system is good to go, capable of taking us wherever the science leads us over the next two years.”
The drive, which lasted about 33 minutes, propelled the rover forward 13 feet (4 meters), where it then turned in place 150 degrees to the left and backed up 8 feet (2.5 meters) into its new temporary parking space. To help better understand the dynamics of a retrorocket landing on the Red Planet, engineers used Perseverance’s Navigation and Hazard Avoidance Cameras to image the spot where Perseverance touched down, dispersing Martian dust with plumes from its engines.
Robert Hogg, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover deputy mission manager, added: “The first test of the robotic arm was a big moment for us. That’s the main tool the science team will use to do a close-up examination of the geologic features of Jezero Crater, and then we’ll drill and sample the ones they find the most interesting. When we got confirmation of the robotic arm flexing its muscles, including images of it working beautifully after its long trip to Mars – well, it made my day.”
Since its landing on Mars on February 18, the rover has undergone several routine checks, including a software update, replacing the computer programme that helped land Perseverance with one NASA will rely on to analyse the planet.
All the while, the space agency said the rover continues to send down images from Mars using the most advanced suite of cameras ever to travel to the Red Planet.
Justin Maki, Chief Engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL, said: “Every picture from Perseverance is relayed by either the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, or NASA’s MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They are important partners in our explorations and our discoveries.”