In preparation for NASA's 2020 Mars mission, NASA scientists put the Mars rover through it's first driving test.
The Mars rover is a six wheeled, semi-autonomous vehicle with 23 wide field-of-view and high resolution cameras that allow the rover to see all around it (that's more than any rover has had before). It also has extra computer power, allowing it to create maps and process images of Mars, which will be important for the first humans coming to Mars.
The Mars rover is designed to travel 650 feet every martian day (a few hours longer than an Earth day). While this seems like a ridiculously small distance to travel, to put it into perspective, the longest distance traveled by a rover so far was 702 feet in a day. In other words, the Mars rover will travel faster and farther than any rover has before.
The test took ten hours to complete and saw that all the rover's systems are working well. The rover mostly went forward and backwards, as well as doing a six wheeled pirouette. The scientists also needed to check that the rover can function under it's own weight. As the gravity on Mars is only about 3/8ths as strong as Earth's gravity, the rover will perform successfully on Mars.
The rover is planned to cover a lot of ground on it's (martian) year on Mars, with the mission to find evidence of past microbial life on Mars. After landing at Jezero Crater in February 2021, it will rely on it's specially designed aluminium wheels, each one equipped with it's own motor. During the test, the rover drove (slowly) over small ramps which replicate the type of terrian it will face on Mars.
The Mars rover passing it's driving test is one more step towards potentially finding life on Mars. It's an exciting time to be alive.
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