Perseverance Just Did Its First Test Drive on Mars & You Can See the Tracks
Just taking a joy ride around the red planet.
The Mars Perseverance rover isn't done flinging historic and incredible images from its first weeks on Mars back to Earth. There have already been loads of jaw-dropping images from the red planet, including video of the rover going from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the surface.
On March 5, the rover added another to the list with the release of images from Perseverance's first test drive on March 4. The rover trekked 21.3 feet during the test run. Its science mission hasn't fully begun. At the moment, the Perseverance team is running tests to check and "calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument" on the rover. Once everything is set, the rover will regularly be making trips of 656 feet or more.
"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,” Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer, said in NASA's announcement. “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.”
In total, the drive had the rover go forward about 13 feet. Then it turned in place 150 degrees before backing up eight feet to its new temporary hub. The whole maneuver took about 33 minutes.
The Mars landing site gets a name
In addition to the test drive and software updates that are taking place, NASA announced that the Perseverance touchdown location has been given a name. That spot inside the Jezero Crater is now the Octavia E. Butler Landing, named after the influential and groundbreaking author. She also happens to have been a Pasadena, California native, which is also the location of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
"Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges," Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance, said in a statement. "Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields."
"I can think of no better person to mark this historic landing site than Octavia E. Butler, who not only grew up next door to JPL in Pasadena, but she also inspired millions with her visions of a science-based future," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. "Her guiding principle, ‘When using science, do so accurately,’ is what the science team at NASA is all about. 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."
Butler wrote many influential books, including Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, Kindred, the "Patternist" series, and Fledgling. Butler was also the first science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship or "Genius Grant" and was the first African American woman to win both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award.
Ready to go stargazing?
Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners, the best meteor showers of 2021, or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities.