Mars Rover Curiosity Makes First Test Drive

NASA’s rover Curiosity took its first baby steps on Mars, snapping photos of its tracks to commemorate the test drive milestone.

Curiosity Mars rover took its first 16-minute drive on Wednesday, after successful landing down the Red Planet to search for microbial life. Photo: NASA

The 1-ton rover did not moved far from the place it landed more than two weeks ago. Curiosity just rolled forward about 4.5 meters, rotated to a right angle and reversed a short distance, leaving tracks on the ancient soil.

Mission managers admitted that they are glad that there were no glitches in the drive of the $2.5 billion mission, FirstPost claims.

“It couldn’t be more important,” said project manager Peter Theisinger at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We built a rover. So unless the rover roves, we really haven’t accomplished anything … It’s a big moment.”

The successful voyage means the NASA rover’s mobility system is fully functional, lead driver Matt Heverly told a JPL press conference.

“We’re very excited to have this kind of milestone behind us,” Heverly said. “We see that the system is performing very well and we’re in a great place to do some science.”

“I’m pleased to report that today Curiosity had her first successful drive on Mars,” added Heverly, who was behind the wheel for Curiosity’s initial foray.

The site where the Mars rover landed has been named Bradbury Landing, after science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. In his short story collection The Martian Chronicles, Mars was colonized by humans after fleeing a ravaged Earth. Bradbury, who died two months ago, would have turned 92 on Wednesday.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist of Nasa’s Mars Exploration Program. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

The scientist went on, saying once again that the conditions for driving had been kind too, the soil “firm, great for mobility”.

The key thing ascertained from the drive, Heverly said, was that the team had been able to “do one full revolution of the drive actuators”, which power Curiosity’s six wheels, writes The Guardian.

“We’re very excited to have this milestone behind us. We can see that the system is performing very well,” Heverly said.

It will take Curiosity around three weeks or more to travel to Glenelg area, its first place of interest,  about 400m away to the east of where it is now.

Along the way, NASA scientists will be watching and studying everything the rover sees, in case they spot anything interesting on the journey. It could be a year before Curiosity gets to its main mission: Mount Sharp.

“There’s two main things that make Mount Sharp interesting,” explained Peter Grindrod, a planetary scientist at University College London, who has been watching every move of the mission.

“It’s five kilometres of layered rock, which are probably sediments. We’re not sure how they are laid down but, on Earth, those layers are very good at revealing the environment in which they formed,” he continued.

Another factor in choosing where to land Curiosity was the chemistry scientists saw from orbit. “Near the bottom there is evidence that water was around at some point in some form. If you go to the top, it’s dry,” said Grindrod.

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