NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars just over two weeks ago, and now it has completed its first series of tests. Everything looks healthy and soon it will be able to begin its scientific work, searching for evidence of ancient life.
“Perseverance has been doing an exceptional job during her first two weeks on the red planet,” said Robert Hogg, Perseverance Deputy Mission Manager in a press conference.
The rover took its first drive this week, traveling 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) on Thursday, March 4. This first drive was a test to ensure that the rover could move as planned, in preparation for its planned daily drives of around 656 feet (200 meters) or more.
Over 33 minutes, the rover trundled over the surface, turned in place, and back up. One of the engineers, Anais Zarifian, called it the team’s first chance to “kick the tires” and make sure the drive system was ready.
“The rover’s six-wheel-drive responded superbly,” she said. “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.”
Following the drive, the rover snapped an image of its tracks in the regolith using its navigation cameras, shown above. “You can see our first tracks on Mars,” Hogg said. “This was just so amazing to see… We’re really happy about this.”
The rover also performed a checkout of its robotic arm which holds several of the rover’s instruments, including several cameras and the SHERLOC instrument. The arm was deployed and performed what Hogg referred to as a “test wiggle” to make sure it worked as expected.
The first science sensors have been deployed as well, like the wind sensors of the MEDA instrument which will be investigating the Martian weather.
Finally, the rover’s software was also updated to enable further capabilities. “When we did this update we had to be very careful not to have any major problems,” Hogg joked, “because there’s no helpline to call.”
Naming the landing site
In addition to the news about the rover, the team also announced they have named the site where the rover landed after renowned science fiction author Octavia E. Butler.
The name “Octavia E. Butler Landing” was chosen in commemoration of Butler’s enduring influence on planetary science and the way we think about space exploration, particularly in terms of race, gender, and equality.
“Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges,” said Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance. “Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically underrepresented in STEM fields.”
What’s next for the rover
With the first tests complete, now the team will move onto more detailed testing and calibration of the rover’s science instruments. They also plan to send the rover on a longer drive and to jettison the covers of part of the sample caching system and the Ingenuity helicopter.
The first test flight of the Ingenuity helicopter is also expected soon, which will be the first time an aircraft has flown on another planet.