NASA's Mars 2020 rover has successfully passed its first driving test, according to a release of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, on Wednesday.
A preliminary assessment of the rover's activities on Tuesday showed that it checked all the necessary boxes as it rolled forward and backward and pirouetted in a cleanroom at JPL.
The next time the Mars 2020 rover drives, it will be rolling over Martian soil, according to JPL.
"Mars 2020 has earned its driver's license," said Rich Rieber, the lead mobility systems engineer for Mars 2020. "The test unambiguously proved that the rover can operate under its own weight and demonstrated many of the autonomous-navigation functions for the first time. This is a major milestone for Mars 2020."
Scheduled to launch in July or August 2020, the Mars 2020 mission will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize Mars' climate and geology, collect samples for a future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. It is scheduled to land in an area of Mars known as Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021.
"To fulfil the mission's ambitious science goals, we need the Mars 2020 rover to cover a lot of ground," said Katie Stack Morgan, Mars 2020 deputy project scientist.
According to JPL, Mars 2020 is designed to make more driving decisions for itself than any previous rover. It is equipped with higher-resolution, wide-field-of-view colour navigation cameras, an extra computer "brain" for processing images and making maps, and more sophisticated auto-navigation software. It also has wheels that have been redesigned for added durability.
Mars 2020 is part of a larger program that includes missions to Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet, according to JPL.