NASA Perseverance Rover Completes 1st Test Drive on Mars Terrain

This image was captured while NASA’s Perseverance rover drove on Mars for the first time on March 4, 2021 on Sol 14. One of Perseverance’s front mounted Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams) captured this image as the rover completed a short traverse and turn from its landing site in Jezero Crater. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – NASA’s Perseverance rover performed its first test drive drive on Martian terrain on March 4, or Sol 14, the mission team announced with the release of a batch of dramatic new images captured at the landing site now bearing the name “Octavia E. Butler Landing” where the six wheeled robot touched down safely two weeks ago on Feb. 18, 2021 after a seven month interplanetary voyage through space and surviving the ‘7 Minutes of Terror’ plunge through the tenuous atmosphere.

The first test drive may have been short but it marked a tremendous boost for the team going ahead knowing that Perseverance is fully capable to meet the hopes and goals of the mission and carry out ground breaking science on her astrobiology mission to search for signs of ancient Martian microbes  and gather samples for return to Earth about a decade from now.

Since the safe touchdown Perseverance has already snapped over 7,000 images including those after the first drive taken yesterday and transmitted to Earth by today. It takes about 24 hours for the images to be transmitted via the fleet of 4 NASA and ESA Martian orbiters soaring overhead.

On her first drive on the Red Plant Perseverance moved 21.3 feet (6.5 meters) across the Martian landscape, said the team at a media briefing Friday afternoon, March 5. 

“When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive,” said Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin. The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly. 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.”

NASA has named the landing site of the agency’s Perseverance rover “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” after the science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. The landing location is marked with a star in this image from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Credit: Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA

The drive served as a mobility test that marks just one of many milestones as team members check out and calibrate every system, subsystem, and instrument on Perseverance, the team noted.

The first drive lasted about 33 minutes altogether to propel the rover forward 13 feet (4 meters) and then she turned in place 150 degrees to the left and backed up 8 feet (2.5 meters) into the “new temporary parking space.”

Along the way the science and engineering team commanded Perseverance to snap images of the drive and turn in progress as well as of the touchdown site itself using the Navigation (Navcam) and Hazard Avoidance (Hazcam) Cameras “to help better understand the dynamics of a retrorocket landing on the Red Planet  … where Perseverance touched down, dispersing Martian dust with plumes from its engines.”

This image was taken during the first drive of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars on March 4, 2021 or Sol 14 by the rover’s Navigation Cameras. Perseverance landed on Feb. 18, 2021 in Jezero Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance is designed with the capability for regular commutes extending 656 feet (200 meters) or more after the mission kicks into high gear roving as soon as this summer to pursue her science goals.

She can “rover at a top speed of 0.1 MPH,” said Zarifian.

Engineers also commanded Perseverance to ‘wiggle’ each of her four corner wheels to check out and test the wheels before driving. They have been upgraded from those used on twin sister Curiosity redesigned to make them stronger  with new grousers.

NASA has named the landing site of the agency’s Perseverance rover “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” after the science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, the first African American woman to win both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award, and she was the first science fiction writer honored with a MacArthur Fellowship. The groundbreaking author was a native of Pasadena, California.

“Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges,” said Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance. “Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields.”


NASA followed up on the pattern of naming Mars landing sites after noted science fiction authors, Morgan said at the briefing.

NASA’s Curiosity rover landing site was named Bradbury landing and world famous science fiction author Ray Bradbury after touchdown at Gale crater in August 2012.

This elevation map of Jezero crater and its surrounds shows the topography of the broader region, from the highlands (red and browns) to the lower lying floor of the Isidis impact basin (green). The height difference in this area of 1.5 million square kilometres is over 6800 metres, with the floor of Jezero crater lying at an elevation of approximately minus 2600 metres below the ‘Mars Areoid’, a notional plane of equal gravitational attraction, analogous to sea level on Earth. Jezero crater, the landing site of NASA’s 2020 Perseverance rover mission, is marked on the map. It hosts two river deltas from inflow channels that once brought water into Jezero, which is thought to have once hosted a lake. This elevation map was created from ESA Mars Express data. The High Resolution Stereo Camera’s nine sensors, arranged at right angles to the north-south flight direction, record the surface of Mars from different angles and in four colour channels. From the four inclined stereo channels and the nadir channel, which is directed perpendicular to the surface of Mars, scientists at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research and the Freie Universität Berlin compute digital terrain models, which assign elevation information to each pixel. The high resolution of the data processed for this image allows for greater enlargement of the images for a closer look at individual details of the landscape. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin

The key objective of Perseverance is to carry out an astrobiology mission in search for signs of ancient microbial life in the rocks and soil that may contain preserved biosignatures of microbial organisms in the dried out river delta at Jezero Crater where liquid water once flowed more than 3 billion years ago.

The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust).

The prime rock targets are stromatolites which consist of sedimentary layers on fossilized mats of microorganisms deposited billions of years ago.

Perseverance counts as first leg of a truly ground breaking astrobiology expedition aimed at collecting and caching dozens of pristine soil and rock samples that will be returned to Earth a decade from now in search of tell-tale signs of past life and eventually pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet in the late 2030s.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Space Agency), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

From its landing site, “Octavia E. Butler Landing,” NASA’s Perseverance rover can see a remnant of a fan-shaped deposit of sediments known as a delta with its Mastcam-Z instrument. Scientists believe this delta is what remains of the confluence between an ancient river and a lake at Mars’ Jezero Crater. The delta remnant is the raised area of dark brown rock in the middle ground this image acquired on Feb. 22, 2021. The delta remnant is about 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) to the west of the Perseverance landing site. The visible portion of the remnant is about 660 feet (200 meters) across. In the foreground is a boulder about 6 feet (2 meters) across that is about 425 feet (130 meters) from the rover. The image colors portray an estimate of the natural color of each scene, or approximately what the scene would look like if we viewed it with human eyes. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

In addition to exercising the rover’s mobility system the team has also been busy with many other initial checkouts.

On Feb. 26 (Sol 8) mission controllers completed a software update, replacing the computer program that helped land Perseverance with one they will rely on to investigate the planet

More recently, the engineers and scientists checked out Perseverance’s Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) and Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) instruments, and deployed the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument’s two wind sensors, which extend out from the rover’s mast.

In another significant milestone engineers also commanded Perseverance to unstow the rover’s 7-foot-long (2-meter-long) robotic arm for the first time on March 2, or sol 12  and flexing each of its five joints over the course of two hours.

Watch this video compilation:

This set of images shows part of the deployment of the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) wind sensors on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. MEDA is a set of weather sensors, with the wind sensor components on the rover’s remote sensing mast. These images were taken by Perseverance’s Navigation Cameras on Feb. 28, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Tuesday’s first test of the robotic arm was a big moment for us,” said Robert Hogg, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover deputy mission manager.

“That’s the main tool the science team will use to do close-up examination of the geologic features of Jezero Crater, and then we’ll drill and sample the ones they find the most interesting. When we got confirmation of the robotic arm flexing its muscles, including images of it working beautifully after its long trip to Mars – well, it made my day.”

The team plans more tests, driving evaluations and science instrument calibrations in upcoming Sols.


The Navigation Cameras Navcams) aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captured this view of the rover’s deck on Feb. 20, 2021. This view provides a good look at PIXL (the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), one of the instruments on the rover’s stowed arm. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A key activity will be “jettisoning covers that shield both the adaptive caching assembly (part of the rover’s Sample Caching System) and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter during landing.”

“The experimental flight test program for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will also take place during the rover’s commissioning.”

Ingenuity flight tests are expected this summer

The team is searching for the best place to drop off Ingenuity to the ground.

The science data and imagery from Perseverance are related to Earth via 4 Martian orbiters: The European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and NASA’s MAVEN, Mars Odyssey (MO), or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

TGO and MRO have relayed high resolution imagery of the Perseverance landing site.


This wind-carved rock seen in first 360-degree panorama taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument shows just how much detail is captured by the camera systems on Sol 3 of the mission (Feb. 21, 2021). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU


Watch our live and complete ‘Stay Curious’ with live Perseverance landing commentary Feb 18, 2021 as well as earlier programs on Mars Mania on Feb 12.


Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, Artemis and NASA missions, SpaceX, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

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This first image of NASA’s Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows the many parts of the Mars 2020 mission landing system that got the rover safely on the ground. The image was taken on Feb. 19, 2021. This annotated version of the image points out the locations of the parachute and back shell, the descent stage, the Perseverance rover, and the heat shield. Each inset shows an area about 650 feet (200 meters) across. The rover itself sits at the center of a blast pattern created by the hovering descent stage that lowered it there using the sky crane maneuver. The descent stage flew off to crash at a safe distance, creating a V-shaped debris pattern that points back toward the rover. Earlier in the landing sequence, Perseverance jettisoned its heat shield and parachute, which can be seen on the surface in the separate locations illustrated. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission captured thrilling footage of its rover landing in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The real footage in the video was captured by several cameras that are part of the rover’s entry, descent, and landing suite. The views include a camera looking down from the spacecraft’s descent stage (a kind of rocket-powered jet pack that helps fly the rover to its landing site), a camera on the rover looking up at the descent stage, a camera on the top of the aeroshell (a capsule protecting the rover) looking up at that parachute, and a camera on the bottom of the rover looking down at the Martian surface. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Screenshot: Space UpClose


Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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