NASA rover gets rolling on Mars from its landing spot named for late author Octavia Butler

Butler was a pioneering science-fiction writer

This image was captured while NASA’s Perseverance rover drove on Mars for the first time on March 4, 2021. One of Perseverance’s Hazcams captured this image as the rover completed a short traverse and turn from its landing site in Jezero Crater. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This image was captured while NASA’s Perseverance rover drove on Mars for the first time on March 4, 2021. One of Perseverance’s Hazcams captured this image as the rover completed a short traverse and turn from its landing site in Jezero Crater. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech) (NASA JPL 2021)

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is now wheeling around on the red planet and stretching its robotic limbs, the rover’s team said in the most recent update just two weeks after landing.

Already the space agency released the first ever sound recorded on Mars taken by Percy and the first photos taken from the rover’s jetpack as it landed.

Since then there have been many more firsts for the six-wheeled robot.. Two weeks into the mission, Percy has already sent back about 7,000 images.

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Percy took its first drive during a short trip totaling about 21 feet. The rover isn’t moving very fast at .01 mph but Anais Zarifian, Perseverance mobility testbed engineer, said the early results indicate Percy will soon be moving five times faster.

Showing an image of some wheel tracks taken by the rover, Zarifian said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks and I’ve seen a lot of them.”

The new wheels were developed and tested in the Mars yard at JPL.

“This is really what we’ve been working towards and it’s just amazing to see. I don’t think the team could have been happier,” she said.

Following its first drive, Percy then used on of its cameras to photograph its landing site.

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover touched down in the Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, where it will search for signs of ancient life in the dried up lake bed.

The rover’s team announced Friday it has decided to name the area inside the crater where the robot landed after late science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler.

“Butler’s pioneering work explores themes of race, gender equality and humanity centering on the experiences of Black women at a time when such voices were largely absent from science fiction,” Perseverance deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan said. “Butler’s protagonists embodies determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission, and its theme of overcoming challenges.”

The award-winning author was born not far from NASA JPL in Pasadena, California. She received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and PEN West Lifetime Achievement Award for her body of work. Her works include “Wild Seed” and “Parable of the Sower.” Butler died in 2006. Several of her books are being adapted for TV and film projects.

Mission controllers have made substantial progress as the rover begins using its wheels and testing out its robotic arm, according to NASA.

Only 14 days into operations, it’s too early to know where the rover will collect the samples NASA and the European Space Agency plan to bring back to Earth.

Perseverance deputy mission manager Robert Hogg said that time will come “in the blink of an eye” when “we’ll be able to get these (samples) coming back to Earth for scientists all over the world.”

Stack Morgan said as Perseverance heads into the former river Delta, the search for sample sites will intensify. The team is looking at rocks in a whole new light, as potential samples.

“So we’re actually talking about real rocks now,” Stack Morgan said. “And that’s so exciting to us in the science team, because we can start to really think about the impact that these samples will have on future scientific endeavors and our understanding of the big questions we have about life beyond Earth, and the evolution of planets in our solar system.


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