NASA’s Perseverance rover is officially on the move on the surface of Mars. The mission released new images sent back from the rover during a Friday press conference, including a shot of the tracks Perseverance left during its first test drive on the Martian surface.
NASA also announced on Friday that Perseverance’s landing site will be named after science fiction author Octavia E. Butler, who died in 2006 after a long and illustrious career that saw her win high-profile awards and publish works such as Kindred and the Xenogenesis Trilogy.
The rover has now traveled about five meters (16 feet) across this newly named ground, the first steps of a voyage that mission leads hope will span 20 kilometers (12 miles), or more.
While it’s always possible that Mars rovers could get stuck or experience catastrophic damage at some point, NASA has a history of sending robots that outperform expectations. The best example is the resilient Opportunity rover, which drove over 45 kilometers (28 miles) on Mars, making it the most well-traveled off-Earth explorer in history.
As Perseverance explores the crater’s variable terrain, it will collect samples of the most interesting sites it visits, which it will eventually cache so that a future mission can pick up the goods and return them to Earth for further study. In particular, the rover is hunting for Martian material that might contain signs of past life that may have existed in Jezero Crater billions of years ago, when water once flowed on Mars.