NASA’s Perseverance Rover, which made its daring landing just last month, made its first test drive on the Red Planet Thursday afternoon, the space agency said Friday, a major first step in the mission looking for signs of ancient life on Mars.
NASA said the rover, which is the size of a car and has six wheels, covered about 16 feet at about .01 miles per hour in 33 minutes during its first test drive.
Perseverance is capable of driving five times faster than NASA’s Curiosity rover due to more advanced navigation and imaging technology, which scientists hope will allow Perseverance to drive longer distances in less time.
The also rover extended its seven-foot long robotic arm for the first time this week, which will be used to drill and take samples from the planet over the course of the mission, Robert Hogg, Perseverance’s deputy mission manager, told reporters Friday, as well as take “rover selfies.”
The mission will aim to find signs that Mars once supported life in the ancient past, and will collect rock and soil samples that will eventually be transported back to Earth.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to see wheel tracks, and I’ve seen a lot of them,” Anais Zarifian, a mobility testbed engineer, said.
Perseverance landed inside a large spot on Mars called the Jezero Crater on February 18, which scientists believe was once filled with water. Perseverance is the most advanced piece of robotics ever sent to Mars, and it was the first since the Curiosity rover landed on the planet in 2012. NASA says the Perseverance mission is meant to “characterize the planet’s geology and past climate” and “pave the way for human exploration” of Mars.