There's no chance of rain, so it might be a good time to wash Perseverance. Mission controllers took the rover out for a 33-minute test drive Thursday, covering 21 feet of the dusty surface of Mars, NASA reports. They liked the way it handled. "The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly," an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said. "We are now confident our drive system is good to go, capable of taking us wherever the science leads us over the next two years." It was the first time the rover had budged since landing on the planet two weeks ago, per the AP. NASA displayed photos of the tire tracks at a press conference Friday. "I don't think I've ever been happier to see wheel tracks, and I've seen a lot of them," the engineer said. "This is just a huge milestone for the mission."
The mission is to look for signs of past life on the planet. The rover is still undergoing system checks, but once they're finished and NASA has settled on a route, Perseverance will drive to an ancient river delta to pick up rocks to be brought to Earth in a decade on another mission. In another first this week, the rover's robotic arm was flexed, per Space.com. NASA also said Friday that it has informally named the rover's touchdown site Octavia E. Butler Landing, after the science fiction author. Butler, who died in 2006, was from Pasadena, where the JPL is located. She was the first Black woman to win a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, as well as the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Fellowship. "Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness," NASA said, "making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission." (Read more Mars stories.)