NASA scientists took the Mars rover Curiosity out for a spin on Wednesday. The rover drove for 16-minutes, completing its first drive since landing on the red planet.
The Curiosity rover is NASA’s first astrobiology initiative since the 1970s Viking probes and will end up costing the space agency at least $2.5 billion. Curiosity landed on Mars’ “Bradbury Landing” on August 6 and spent the last several weeks testing out its built-in systems including a high-powered laser capable of obliterating rocks.
Earlier in the week, NASA scientists had performed a steering test on the one-ton rover, the first time they attempted to drive the vehicle since it landed. The Mars Curiosity rover is currently located in the Gale Crater, which is located near the planets equator on its southern hemisphere.
The 16 minute trip allowed the Curiosity rover to travel 15 feet, turn 120 degrees, and then back up 8 feet. The drive allowed the rover to position itself by its own scour mark left by its descent engine.
According to project manager Pete Theisinger of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
“It couldn’t be more important. We built a rover, so unless the rover roves, we really haven’t accomplished anything.”
As the rover was driven across martian soil, it sent a continuous stream of data about its capabilities back to NASA scientists. The data collection will provide important information about the Red Planet and the rovers own stability.
In approximately one week, the Mars Curiosity rover will make a longer trek in which it will drive across three different types of terrain.
NASA scientists say the planet’s firm soil is making the driving of the Mars rover easier than previously anticipated.