Friday, March 5th 2021, 6:00 pm - The rover has logged plenty of 'firsts' since it landed two weeks ago, and even more are happening in the days ahead.
After a short drive on Thursday, NASA's Perseverance rover has now made its first wheel tracks on the surface of Mars. The robot explorer has also racked up a number of other mission 'firsts', while preparing to begin its mission of gathering science from Jezero crater.
We've seen a steady stream of amazing imagery arriving from Perseverance over the past two weeks. From the stunning sequence of its 'seven minutes of terror' landing, to the panoramic views of its surroundings, the mission so far has been a treat for space fans. All this while, though, the mission team has been transitioning the rover from thinking it is a spacecraft on an interplanetary journey, over to the mindset of a geologist and astrobiologist explorer of an alien planet's environment.
In the process, they've been running Perseverance through a list of milestones, activating its various mechanical systems and instruments, and taking the rover for its first spin (literally) in Jezero crater.
Perseverance's navcams snapped pictures of the wheel tracks the rover made during its first drive, on March 4, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
"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, the Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at NASA JPL, said in a statement. "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."
A quick test of my steering, and things are looking good as I get ready to roll. My team and I are keen to get moving. One step at a time. pic.twitter.com/XSYfT158AQ
Although the rover did not take photographs on its drive (one thing at a time, for now!), NASA did release a simulation of the rover's jaunt. After first driving forwards for about 4 metres, Perseverance turned by 150 degrees, and then backed up for another 2.5 metres.
Perseverance's drive system is very similar to Curiosity's, but it has a couple of new features. It has newly redesigned wheels that should minimize damage due to rocks, and it also includes the ability to drive itself. The artificial intelligence installed on the rover will cut down on delays and stops by using the ability to decide for itself what the safest driving route is to its next target destination. The team says that, due to this, they project that Perseverance will be able to drive up to 200 metres per day.
Before that first drive took place, though, Perserverance took the time to deploy some of its instruments, such as the wind sensors mounted on its mast.