NASA’s Perseverance rover achieved a huge milestone on March 4, when it went for its first drive on the surface of Mars. The rover managed to drive a total of 6.5 meters across the Martian landscape during a mobility test that marks just one of many milestones as team members check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance.
The drive, which lasted about 33 minutes, propelled the rover forward 4 metres, where it then turned in place 150 degrees to the left and backed up 2.5 meters into its new temporary parking space.
To help better understand the dynamics of a retrorocket landing on the Red Planet, engineers used Perseverance’s Navigation and Hazard Avoidance Cameras to image the spot where Perseverance touched down, dispersing Martian dust with plumes from its engines.
We’re rolling: the @NASAPersevere rover has made its first drive on Mars, and its landing site has been named in honor of groundbreaking science fiction author @OctaviaEButler. More: https://t.co/LDw7UX2Ccg pic.twitter.com/OUhQw3MLUF
— NASA Mars (@NASAMars) March 5, 2021
“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,” said Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility testbed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The rover’s mobility system is not the only thing getting a test drive during this period of initial checkouts. On Feb. 26 – Perseverance’s eighth Martian day, or sol, since landing – mission controllers completed a software update, replacing the computer program that helped land Perseverance with one they will rely on to investigate the planet.
Upcoming events and evaluations include more detailed testing and calibration of science instruments, sending the rover on longer drives, and jettisoning covers that shield both the adaptive caching assembly (part of the rover’s Sample Caching System) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during landing. The experimental flight test program for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will also take place during the rover’s commissioning.
A key objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.