CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (AP) – NASA’s newest rover hit the dusty red road this week, placing 21 feet on the odometer in its first test drive.
The Perseverance Mars rover dared to board on Thursday, two weeks after boarding the red planet to look for signs of a past life.
The roundabout, back and forth, lasted only 33 minutes and went so well that more driving was available on Friday and Saturday for the six-wheeled rover.
“This is really the beginning of our journey here,” said Rich Riber, a NASA engineer who plotted the route. “It’s going to be like the Odyssey, the adventures along the way, I hope there̵
On its first drive, Perseverance continued forward by 4 feet (4 meters), made a 150-degree left turn, then supported 2.5 meters. During a press conference Friday, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, shared photos of its tracks above and around small rocks.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see traces of wheels and I’ve seen a lot of them,” said engineer Anais Zarifian.
Flight controllers are still checking all Perseverance systems. So far, so good. For example, the rover’s 7-foot (2-meter) arm contracted its muscles for the first time on Tuesday.
Before a car-sized rover can head to an ancient river delta to collect rocks for a possible return to Earth, it must drop a so-called protective “belly pan” and launch an experimental helicopter called Ingenuity.
As it turns out, Perseverance landed right on the edge of a potential helicopter landing strip – a nice, flat place, according to Riber. So the plan is to get out of this landing lane, drop the pan, and then return for the long-awaited Ingenuity test flight. All this must be achieved by the end of spring.
Scientists are debating whether to take the smoother route to the nearby delta, or possibly a more difficult route with intriguing remnants of that once-watery time 3 billion to 4 billion years ago.
Permanence – NASA’s largest and most complex rover to date – became the ninth US spacecraft to successfully land on Mars on February 18. China hopes to land its smaller rover – currently in orbit around the red planet – for a few more months.
Meanwhile, NASA scientists announced on Friday that they have named the landing site for Perseverance in honor of the late science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, who grew up next to the JPL in Pasadena. She was one of the first African Americans to receive a major focus on science fiction. Her works include Bloodchild and Other Stories and The Parable of the Sower.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.