Perseverance went on its first drive on Mars on Friday, NASA has announced. The rover performed a mobility test by going forward 4 meters (13 feet), turning in place by 150 degrees, and then moving another 2.5 meters (8 feet) in that direction, traversing a total of 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) on the Martian surface.
The whole test took the rover 33 minutes and is an important milestone in the calibration of every system before the robotic explorer can begin its science mission on the Red Planet. Once that begins, researchers expect the rover to make regular commutes of 200 meters (656 feet) to sample different locations around Jezero Crater where it landed onFebruary 18.
“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,” Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance mobility testbed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a said.
“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.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks — and I’ve seen a lot of them,” she added. “This is just a huge milestone for the mission and the mobility team. We’ve driven on Earth, but driving on Mars is really the ultimate goal.”
Some of the rover’s systems have already been tested, with some more tests happening in the upcoming days. Soon, Perseverance will be able to leave the Octavia E. Butler Landing, which its landing site has been named, and start exploring what its corner of Mars might be hiding.
Perseverance is relatively quick for a Mars rover, with a top speed of 152 meters (500 feet) per hour. That beats Curiosity at 142 meters (460 feet), but pales to Tianwen-1's as-yet-unnamed rover, which if all goes well and it successfully lands on Mars in May or June, can move at 200 meters (656 feet) an hour.
Don't get excited for the first-ever Mars rover race, though. Perseverance landed in Jezaro Crater, about 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) away from where Tianwen-1 is eyeing a landing in the southern part of Utopia Planitia.