NASA’s Perseverance pushes on Mars’ terrain for first time: The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover made its first drive through the Martian landscape on March 4, covering 21.3 feet (6.5 metres). The drive acted as a mobility exercise, and it was only one of several successes for the Perseverance team as they checked out and calibrated every device, subsystem, and instrument. Daily commutes of 656 feet (200 metres) or more are anticipated once the rover starts pursuing its science goals.
“There are few first-time activities on other planets that compare to the importance of the first drive,” said Anais Zarifian, mobility test bed engineer for NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This was our first opportunity to ‘kick the tyres’ and put Perseverance through its paces. The Land Rover’s six-wheel drive system performed admirably. We are now sure that our drive device is ready to go, and that it will take us wherever science leads us in the next two years.”
The rover was pushed forward 13 feet (4 metres) during the 33-minute trip, during which it turned 150 degrees to the left and backed up 8 feet (2.5 metres) into its new temporary parking spot.
More Than Roving
During this time of initial checkouts, the rover’s mobility system isn’t the only thing having a test drive. Mission controllers completed a software upgrade on Feb. 26 – Perseverance’s eighth Martian day, or sol, after landing – replacing the computer programme that helped land Perseverance with one that will be used to explore the surface.
More thorough testing and calibration of science instruments, sending the rover on longer drives, and jettisoning covers that protect both the adaptive caching assembly (part of the rover’s Sample Caching System) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during landing are among the upcoming activities and evaluations.
Throughout it all, the rover is transmitting images from the most sophisticated camera suite ever sent to Mars. The cameras on the mission have already submitted over 7,000 pictures.
Touchdown Site Named
With Perseverance departing from its landing site, mission team scientists have informally renamed the location after late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The pioneering author and native of Pasadena, California, was the first African American woman to receive the Hugo and Nebula Awards, as well as the first science fiction writer to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.
Butler’s works include “Kindred,” “Bloodchild,” “Speech Sounds,” “Parable of the Sower,” “Parable of the Talents,” and the “Patternist” series, among others. Her writing deals with issues such as race, gender, equality, and humanity, and her works are just as important today as they were when they were first written and published.
More about the Mission
Astrobiology, including the quest for signs of ancient microbial life, is a major goal of Perseverance’s work on Mars. The rover will study the planet’s geology and climate history, pave the way for human exploration of Mars, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith.
The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration strategy, which involves Artemis lunar missions to better prepare for human exploration of Mars.