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JPL’s Perseverance Rover Takes 1st Drive on Mars

Landing site named for trailblazing Pasadena science fiction author Octavia E. Butler

Published on Friday, March 5, 2021 | 4:05 pm
 
The Perseverance Mars rover took this photograph with one of its navigation cameras on March 5, 2021, during the 14th Martian day, or “sol 14,” of its missing on the Red Planet. (Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

The Perseverance rover has taken its first drive on the Red Planet, capping off an “exceptional” first two weeks since landing on Mars on Feb. 18, NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced Friday.

The inaugural trip was a short one, totalling only about 21 feet, explained Perseverance Mobility Test Bed Engineer Anais Zarifian of JPL. But it proved that the rover’s mobility systems are functioning perfectly, and allowed it to lay its first set of tracks in the martian soil.

Perseverance Deputy Mission Manager Robert Hogg said he couldn’t be more pleased with the performance of the rover so far.

“Everything is going very well on our latest mission to Mars,” he said. “Perseverance has been doing an exceptional job during her first two weeks on the Red Planet.”

For Thursday’s test drive, the rover was commanded to drive about 13 feet forward, make a 150-degree turn to the left and then back up about 8 feet, Zarifian said. It went flawlessly.

“This is really what we’ve been working toward, and it’s just amazing to see. I don’t think the team could have been happier,” she said.

Much longer drivers are planned in the near future, as the rover begins to explore its surroundings and head to a nearby rock formation believed to have been formed by an ancient river, according to Zarifian.

While the rover’s top speed is 0.1 mph, the same as its predecessor, Curiosity, Perseverance’s advanced navigation system and improved cameras allows it to cover ground about five times faster, she said.

The rover is expected to be able to cover about 200 meters each Martian day.

In addition to stretching its wheels for the first time, the rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm has also been unfurled and tested for the first time, and critical software updates have been performed, Hogg said.

Perseverance took photos of its own landing site, which has been formally named Octavia E. Butler Landing, Perseverance Deputy Project Scientist Katie Stack Morgan announced.

The Perseverance team decided to honor the “visionary author and Pasadena, California native, who was the first African American woman to win both the Hugo Award and the Nebula Prize for science fiction, and the first science fiction author to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship,” Morgan said.

Butler’s protagonists embodied determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges,” she said.

Perseverance’s mission had only just begun, and many more new discoveries and “firsts” are to come, according to the team.

Over the next few weeks and months, Perseverance will continue gathering data about Mars with its suite of scientific instruments, as well as test out a device intended to generate oxygen from the Martian atmosphere for the first time and deploy a small, autonomous helicopter for the first time on another world.

If all goes well, Perseverance will also collect and store samples of Martian dirt and rock, which will be retrieved by a future mission to become the first Martian material ever returned to Earth.

More information on the Perseverance rover is available online at jpl.nasa.gov/missions/mars-2020-perseverance-rover.

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