Nasa mission managers said on Thursday that Mars rover Perseverance took its first short drive on the red planet.
The six-wheeled, car-sized astrobiology probe travelled 6.5 meters during a half-hour test spin within Jezero Crater, site of an ancient, long-vanished lake bed and river delta.
Taking directions from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, the rover rolled 4 meters (13.1 feet) forward, turned about 150 degrees to its left, and then drove backwards for 2.5 metres (8.2 feet).
“It went incredibly well” and marks a “huge milestone”, JPL mobility test engineer Anais Zarifian told reporters.
Nasa tweeted a photo taken by the rover showing the wheel tread marks left in the reddish, sandy Martian soil after its first drive.
Another vivid image of the surrounding landscape shows a rugged, ruddy terrain littered with large dark boulders in the foreground and a tall outcropping of rocky, layered deposits in the distance – marking the edge of the river delta.
Perseverance is capable of driving 200 meters per day but JPL engineers still have additional equipment checks to run on the rover’s many instruments before attempting such a distance.
These include post-landing tests of its sophisticated system to drill and collect rock samples for return to Earth via future Mars missions.
All signs are promising and deputy mission manager Robert Hogg said the robot had been operating flawlessly to date.
Perseverance’s primary mission is to search for traces of fossilized microbial life.
It landed on the red planet two weeks ago on a site Nasa christened “Octavia E. Butler Landing” in honor of the award-winning American science-fiction writer.
Nasa scientists are planning more short-distance tests of the probe on Friday.