Nasa's Perseverance rover goes for first drive on Mars

Space agency calls event a 'huge milestone' in its search for signs of Martian life

Mars rover Perseverance took its first short journey on the Red Planet, Nasa mission managers said.

On Thursday, the six-wheeled, car-sized astrobiology probe travelled 6.5 metres during a half-hour test spin within Jezero Crater, the site of the bed of a long-vanished lake and river delta.

Taking directions from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled four metres forward, turned about 150° to its left, and then drove backwards for 2.5 metres.

"It went incredibly well," and marked a huge milestone, JPL mobility test engineer Anais Zarifian said.

Nasa tweeted a photo taken by the rover showing tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.

Another vivid image showed a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance, marking the edge of the river delta.

A tall outcropping of rock, with layered deposits of sediments in the distance, marking a remnant of an ancient, long-vanished river delta in Jezero Crater. Reuters
A tall outcropping of rock, with layered deposits of sediments in the distance, marking a remnant of an ancient, long-vanished river delta in Jezero Crater. Reuters

The rover had already beamed back a 360-degree image of its Martian environ from a stationary position.

Perseverance is capable of driving 200 metres per day, but JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover's many instruments before attempting such a distance.

These include post-landing tests of its sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth in future Mars missions.

All signs were promising, and deputy mission manager Robert Hogg said the robot had operated flawlessly to date.

Perseverance's primary mission is to search for traces of fossilised microbial life.

It landed on the Red Planet two weeks ago on a site Nasa named Octavia E Butler Landing in honour of the award-winning American science fiction writer.

Nasa scientists are planning more short-distance tests of the probe on Friday.

Updated: March 6, 2021 08:35 PM

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