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NASA’s Perseverance Rover Performs Its First Drive On Martian Surface

Percy drove 6.5m distance in its first drive test on Mars which lasted for about half an hour. NASA also named the rover’s landing site ‘Octavia E. Butler Landing’.

On March 4, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover took its first drive test on Mars, the US space agency confirmed on Saturday, March 6. The drive has come after two weeks of the rover’s landing on Mars.

During the 33-minutes long drive, the Perseverance rover covered 6.5 meters (21.3 feet). At first, the vehicle moved 4 meters (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to the left, and drove 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) backward.

The rover will travel around 15km in its one-year Mars mission (about two Earth years) in which it will search for the signs of ancient life on the Red Planet. The vehicle can drive about 200 meters or more in a day.

“This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin,” Anais Zarifian, Perseverance mobility test bed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. “The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly.”

The engineer also added that they are confident about the rover’s drive system.

Perseverance has sent back a photograph that shows the marks of the rover’s wheel on the Martian surface. 

After landing NASA’s Perseverance teams have been busy checking and calibrating the rover’s system, subsystem and instrument, and this drive has come as a mobility test. According to NASA, they have completed a software update by replacing the landing program with the new one aimed to investigate the planet.

On March 2, the engineers tested the rover’s 2-meter-long robotic arm for the first time. 

Robert Hogg, Perseverance deputy mission manager, calls the test of the robotic arm – “a big moment”. “That’s the main tool the science team will use to do close-up examination of the geologic features of Jezero Crater, and then we’ll drill and sample the ones they find the most interesting,” he said. 

“When we got confirmation of the robotic arm flexing its muscles, including images of it working beautifully after its long trip to Mars – well, it made my day.”

The mission team is looking forward to more detailed testing and calibration of science instruments, and roving longer distances. Besides it, the mission will also attempt to conduct an experimental flight test with its helicopter – “Ingenuity”. If successful, Ingenuity will be the first-ever helicopter to fly on a planet other than Earth. 

The 19 inches tall flying vehicle that weighs just 1.8 kilograms serves only as a flight experiment on Mars and will click some in-flight photos. 

Perseverance rover is fitted with the most advanced cameras. NASA has already received about 7,000 photographs from the rover in the Red Planet. The photographs get transferred from Mars to Earth through Deep Space Network (DSN) which is managed by NASA’s Space Communication and Navigation program. The transfer is significantly assisted by several Mars orbiters such as European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter, NASA’s MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, etc. 

“Orbiter support for downlink of data has been a real gamechanger,” Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist at JPL said. “When you see a beautiful image from Jezero, consider that it took a whole team of Martians to get it to you,” he added. 

Touchdown site named as ‘Octavia E. Butler Landing’

NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of Mars on February 18. NASA has named the rover’s landing site as ‘Octavia E. Butler Landing’ in the honor of science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. 

Butler (1947 – 2006) was the first African American woman awarded with the Hugo Award and Nebula Award. Her popular works include “Kindred”, “Bloodchild”, “Speech Sounds” and “Parable of the Sower”. 

Kathryn Stack Morgan, the deputy project scientist for Perseverance mission, said, “Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges.”

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said he can think of no better person than Butler “to mark the historic landing site” on Mars. “Her guiding principle, ‘When using science, do so accurately,’ is what the science team at NASA is all about,” he said. 

“Her work continues to inspire today’s scientists and engineers across the globe – all in the name of a bolder, more equitable future for all.”

Octavia E. Butler Landing lies in the Jazero Crater region. The Martian region is an ancient dried-up lake where fossils of microbes may exist. NASA scientists believe the area may consist of “preserved organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life”. 
Perseverance’s mission intends to look for signs of ancient life on Mars along with studying the Red Planet’s geology and climate. The mission also aims to gather rocks and regolith from Mars. To bring back the samples to Earth, NASA will send spacecraft in cooperation with European Space Agency.

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