NASA's Curiosity rover took its first test drive on the Martian terrain Wednesday, the US space agency said.
The maiden journey of the one-ton rover was smooth without any technical glitches.
Curiosity rolled forward about 4.6 metres, rotated through 180 degrees and reversed a short distance away, around 6m from it landed space.
The tracks in the Martian surface indicate the soil is firm and conducive to driving around not causing the rover to sink.
“It couldn’t be more important,” said project manager Peter Theisinger at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We built a rover. So unless the rover roves, we really haven’t accomplished anything. It’s a big moment.”
The rover, size of a small car equipped with six wheels, four of which can pivot landed on Mars on August 6 to embark on a two-year mission to explore the planet for signs of life that might have existed.
It landed inside a vast, ancient impact crater near Mars’ equator. The touchdown site has been officially named “Bradbury Landing” in honor of Ray Bradbury, author of the short story collection “The Martian Chronicles”. Bradbury, who died in June would have been 92 years old on Wednesday.
"This was not a difficult choice for the science team," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist of Nasa's Mars Exploration Program. "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."
Aim of the project
The first few weeks on the red planet are set aside to perform various tests, to check cameras, various scientific equipment and for engineers to get used to Curiosity's robotic arm which is 2m long and weighs in at 30kg.
Curiosity’s main destination is Mount Sharp. Before it heads in that direction, the rover will start driving to its first potential drill target, a spot is called Glenelg, some 500 meters away from its landing position.
Glenelg is at a point where three different types of terrain meet that NASA scientists aim to explore.
Scientists want to analyze soil and rocks for signs that the red planet may have supported life in the past. The project also aims to study the Martian environment to prepare for a possible human mission in the future.