The Mars rover Perseverance has successfully conducted its first test drive on the Red Planet, the US space agency Nasa said on Friday.
The six-wheeled rover travelled about 6.5m (21.3’) in 33 minutes on Thursday, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) said.
It drove 4m forward, turned in place 150° to the left, and then backed up 2.5m, leaving tyre tracks in the Martian dust.
“This was our first chance to ‘kick the tyres’ and take Perseverance out for a spin,” said Anais Zarifian, Perseverance mobility test bed engineer at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
She said the test drive went “incredibly well” and represented a “huge milestone for the mission and the mobility team”.
“We’re going to do some longer drives,” Zarifian added. “This is just the beginning.”
Nasa engineers said they were studying possible routes for longer rover voyages on the surface of Mars.
The rover can cover 200m per Martian day, which is slightly longer than a day on Earth.
And it goes five times faster than Curiosity, its predecessor, which is still functioning eight years after landing on Mars.
Perseverance deputy mission manager Robert Hogg said engineers are also preparing for the first flight of a helicopter drone carried by the rover.
He said the rover team is working out flight zones and hoped to conduct the first flight in late spring or early summer.
Hogg said the mission had not experienced any major problems so far. “It’s all just minor stuff.”
Perseverance was launched on July 30, 2020 and landed on the surface of Mars on February 18 on a mission to search for signs of past life on the Red Planet.
The rover’s primary mission will last just over two years but it is likely to remain operational well beyond that.
Over the coming years, Perseverance will attempt to collect 30 rock and soil samples in sealed tubes to be sent back to Earth sometime in the 2030s for analysis.
About the size of an SUV, the craft weighs a tonne, is equipped with a seven-foot-long robotic arm, has 19 cameras, two microphones, and a suite of cutting-edge instruments.
So far Perseverance has sent back more than 7,000 photographs, including one of a light brown rock that was used to test a device called SuperCam: an ultra-sophisticated French-made camera the size of a shoe box that can shoot a laser beam at rocks up to 7m away to analyse their make-up.
The rover is only the fifth to set its wheels down on Mars, all of them American.
The feat was first accomplished in 1997.
The US is preparing for an eventual human mission to the planet, though planning remains very preliminary.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Biden creates panel to study Supreme Court expansion
Caribbean island on volcano eruption alert
Texas factory worker kills 1, wounds 6 in workplace shooting
George Floyd died from ‘low level of oxygen’, says doctor
Biden plans to crack down on 'ghost guns' with action on Thursday
Facebook says hackers 'scraped' data of 533 mn users in 2019 leak
US vaccine 'passports' advance despite growing controversy
Google prevails over Oracle in long-running copyright case
Actress Thandie Newton reverts to correct name spelling, ‘Thandiwe’