Mars rover Curiosity has made its first move on the Red Planet, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said.
Curiosity’s maiden drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (six meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago, according to JPL in Pasadena, California, Xinhua reported.
Rover driver Matt Heverly said the first drive took about 16 minutes with most of the time used to take pictures, adding that the wheels did not sink much into the ground, which is a good sign for the rover’s mission.
“We should have smooth sailing ahead of us,” he said.
The location where Curiosity touched down is now called Bradbury Landing, a name selected by Curiosity’s science team and approved by NASA.
“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,” said Michael Meyer, NASA’s program scientist for Curiosity.
Curiosity’s first drive confirmed the health of the rover’s mobility system and produced the rover’s first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive.
At a news conference at JPL, Heverly showed an animation derived from visualisation software used for planning the first drive.
“We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead,” he said.
Curiosity will spend several more days in working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings before embarking on its long haul towards a destination approximately 1,300 feet to the east-southeast.
Curiosity’s short drive came a day after the rover successfully wiggled its wheels to test its steering capabilities.
Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator on Aug 5 to explore whether the environment once supported microbial life.