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NASA’s Perseverance rover takes first drive on Mars

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NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover took its first test drive on Mars Thursday, covering about 21 feet of the extraterrestrial landscape, the space agency said.

The mobility test is one of many milestones to check off Perseverance’s do-to list, as team members calibrate every system and instrument on the rover.

When scientists decide all systems are go, it will begin regularly driving the length of several football fields at a time.

“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,” said Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“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.”

The drive lasted about 33 minutes, as the rover negotiated turns and backed up into a new parking space at a snail’s pace, officials said.

Since the Feb. 18th landing, mission controllers have also completed software updates, deployed Perseverance’s wind sensors and tested the rover’s 7-foot-long robotic arm.

The rover is now poised to begin more complicated missions, including finding a launch site for its mini helicopter next month.

Scientists hope its multi-year mission will provide insight into the region’s geology and past climate, and determine if life once existed on the planet.

NASA officials anticipate that samples and data gathered by Perseverance will ultimately prepare astronauts for human exploration on Mars.

With the rover now on the move, scientists memorialized its touchdown site, informally naming it for the late science fiction author Octavia E. Butler.

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