Walking on Mars

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This image shows the tracks left by NASA's Curiosity rover on Aug. 22, 2012, as it completed its first test drive on Mars.

This image shows the tracks left by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Aug. 22, 2012, as it completed its first test drive on Mars. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA (CNS) – The Mars rover Curiosity, which is being managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, took its first drive on the surface of the red planet today, albeit a short one.

The rover, which landed on the surface of Mars on Aug. 5, rolled forward three meters, then turned and rolled backward, putting it about 20 feet from its landing site. To prove it, the rover sent a photo that was posted on Twitter, showing its tire track on the Mars surface.

The test drive ensured the rover’s mobility and prepared it for “lots of amazing exploration ahead,” said Matt Heverly, Curiosity’s lead driver at JPL.

The rover will spend the next few days performing instrument checks before driving to its first destination, about 1,300 feet to the east- southeast.

“Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers,” said JPL’s Curiosity project manager Pete Theisinger. “The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care. Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress.”

The short drive coincided with a visit by Gov. Jerry Brown to JPL, where he met with the team managing the rover and celebrated his proclamation of today as “Space Day” in California.

In his proclamation, Brown said the images of Mars taken by the rover “and the technological genius inherent in the mission have captivated the world’s imagination and reinvigorated our commitment to reach for the stars.”

The rover’s arrival on Mars capped a 36-week, 154-million-mile journey that ended with a highly complex but flawlessly executed landing sequence. Its two-year $2.5 billion mission is to search for signs that Mars might have once had water and other conditions necessary to support life and could support life in the future.

In recent days, Curiosity’s various science instruments have been examining the weather on the Martian surface and the soil and rocks around it. Based on data collected since Curiosity’s landing, JPL officials said the air temperature has ranged from 28 degrees to minus-103 degrees, while ground temperatures have ranged from 37 degrees to minus-132 degrees.

JPL officials noted that one of the two sets of Rover Environmental Monitoring Station wind sensors aboard the rover has not been transmitting any data.

“One possibility is that pebbles lofted during the landing hit the delicate circuit boards on one of the two REMS booms,” according to JPL’s Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity deputy project scientist. “We will have to be more clever about using the remaining wind sensor to get wind speed and direction.”

Meanwhile, the rover’s Twitter page announced that Curiosity’s landing spot was being named Bradbury Landing, in honor of the late science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. “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.”

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