Mar 9, 2021 - Science

NASA's Perseverance rover takes its first drive

Image of the Perseverance making tracks on the surface of Mars

Making tracks on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Perseverance rover took a drive on Mars for the first time last week.

Why it matters: The first jaunt is expected to set off a long and scientifically productive life on Mars for the car-sized rover.

Driving the news: Perseverance drove for about 33 minutes, going 13 feet forward and backing up about 8 feet before snapping some photos of the area where the rover touched down on the planet on Feb. 18.

  • “This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin. The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly," Anais Zarifian, a Perseverance team member said in a statement.
  • "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.”
  • On March 2, the rover also took about two hours to stretch its 7-foot robotic arm designed to let the rover use tools to snap photos of interesting rocks and learn more about their composition.

The big picture: The rover is specifically designed by NASA to search for signs of past life on the Red Planet.

  • Perseverance’s landing area — which is thought to have been a river delta billions of years ago — is believed to be one of the best places on the planet to look for fossilized signs of life.
  • To that end, the rover will use specially designed tubes to cache interesting samples that can be scooped up by a future mission and brought back to Earth for analysis.

What's next: Perseverance will continue to run diagnostics of its instruments, with the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter — designed to fly above the Red Planet — planned for some time in the coming weeks.

1 fun thing: NASA named Perseverance's landing site "Octavia E. Butler Landing" in honor of the famous science fiction writer.

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