Perseverance Mars rover breaks 17-year-old driving record

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NASA’s Perseverance rover recently smashed the record for the longest drive on a single solar day on Mars, traveling 245.76 meters across the dusty surface.

The epic journey snatches the record set by Opportunity when it traveled just over 228 meters in March 2005 on a single solar day, which is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth.

NASA highlighted the record-breaking drive in a couple of tweets posted over the last couple of days:

There are no #WinterOlympics on Mars, but @NASAPersevere just broke two records! She achieved the longest drive in a single sol by a Martian rover (the previous record had been held by Opportunity for nearly 17 years) and surpassed her own record of longest AutoNav drive.🎉 https://t.co/pC4dEfX9ct

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) February 8, 2022

Perseverance, which landed on Mars in spectacular fashion a year ago this month, is exploring the Martian surface for signs of ancient life. It’s also collecting samples of rock for return to Earth by another mission, and gathering data that should prove useful for the first crewed mission to the red planet, though a solid date has yet to be set for that particular endeavor.

AutoNav

NASA’s most advanced Mars rover to date also beat its own record for the longest AutoNav drive. Perseverance is NASA’s first Mars rover to feature such a function, which enables the six-wheeled vehicle to safely traverse the Martian surface autonomously, with 3D maps and specially designed software helping it avoid obstacles such as large rocks and patches of loose sand.

The autonomous technology also allows Perseverance to move more rapidly than if it had humans planning the route. Manual routing can limit a Mars rover to 200 meters of travel in a day, while autonomous driving can see it move as far as 120 meters in just one hour.

For comparison, NASA’s other operational Mars rover, Curiosity, currently travels no faster than 20 meters per hour as it has no AutoNav function to automatically guide it.

NASA landed Perseverance in Jezero Crater, a dried lake bed that scientists believe offers the best chance of containing evidence of ancient life. The crater is about 28 miles (45 km) across, so there’s plenty of ground for Perseverance to cover as it explores its surroundings. Having that extra speed means the team can move Perseverance between sites of interest more quickly, enabling more research in a shorter space of time.

In recent days the rover overcame some issues with its sample collection mechanism, enabling it to continue its exploration of the distant planet.

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