- Jonathan Amos
- Science Correspondent, BBC
The US space agency’s Perseverance robot activated its wheels and began its first walk on Mars.
He did not go very far: in total, he only traveled 6.5 meters.
But mission deputy scientist Katie Stack Morgan stressed that it was a significant moment.
“Although the robot is still carrying out a lot of engineering checks, by the time it starts to move we can already consider ourselves to be explorers on the surface of Mars,” he told BBC News.
Two weeks have passed since the one-ton robot made its dramatic descent to the red planet successfully.
Engineers have spent this time fine-tuning the vehicle and its complex systems, including its instruments and robotic arm.
All, however, were hoping that Perseverance echara a andar.
And it happened on Thursday. The robot moved forward, made a 150-degree turn in the same place, and backed up slightly.
“You can see the tracks we left on Mars; I think I have never been so happy to see wheel tracks,” said Anais Zarifian, an engineer at NASA’s Propulsion Laboratory and who is part of the team responsible for mobility tests. of Perseverance.
“This is a tremendous milestone for the mission and mobility equipment. We have driven on Earth but driving on Mars… is the ultimate goal, a lot of people have worked for this moment for years. “
Perseverance was placed near a crater called Jezero, to search for evidence of past life.
That end will mean traveling about 15 km during the next Martian year (about two Earth years).
Scientists want to get a certain number of rock formations in the crater that could contain records of ancient biological activity.
Among them is what in satellite images appears to be a delta, believed to have formed the river that emptied into the great lagoon.
The mission team is considering one of the two routes to the delta, one of them would give scientists a sneak peek by taking the robot past an isolated remnant.
“This (mound) is about a mile and a half from the robot,” Stack Morgan noted.
“On this ledge, those tough rock layers were likely deposited by rivers flowing into ancient Jezero Lake, and the team’s scientists are hard at work. to try to understand the meaning and origin rocks like that. “
One of Perseverance’s immediate purposes is to experiment with his helicopter.
The rover will spend the next few weeks going from its current location to an area of suitable terrain, where the 2kg device called the Ingenuity can be safely deposited on Martian terrain.
Right now, the helicopter is under Perseverance’s “belly”.
“We are still working to find out the possible flight zones,” said Robert Hogg, the deputy director of the mission.
“We are taking navigation and stereo images to be able to analyze the terrain. And the team has also been investigating orbital images to identify possible flight zones. In short, we still have the goal of having it ready by spring,” he told reporters.
Perseverance is the fastest robot NASA has ever placed on Mars. It has not so much to do with the speed at which your wheels can go (around 5 cm / s), but with your progress in autonomous navigation.
The robot takes pictures to assess the path. Previous vehicles had to stop while these images were being processed on board. Perseverance can do it on the go.
“Perseverance can walk and chew gum at the same time”joked Anais Zarifian.
NASA announced Friday that it had decided to name the site where Perseverance landed in Jezero Crater after celebrated American science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler.
That same honor was bestowed on science fiction author Ray Bradbury in 2012, whose name was used to name the landing site of NASA’s previous robot, Curiosity.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.