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NASA's Mars rover Perseverance does first drive on red planet

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This photo made available by NASA was taken during the first drive of the Perseverance rover on Mars on Thursday, March 4, 2021. Perseverance landed on Feb. 18, 2021.
This photo made available by NASA was taken during the first drive of the Perseverance rover on Mars on Thursday, March 4, 2021. Perseverance landed on Feb. 18, 2021.   -   Copyright  NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP
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NASA's Mars rover wandered from its landing position two weeks after first arriving on the red planet in a first drive that lasted 33 minutes.

The rover went forward four metres, took a 150-degree left turn, and then backed up 2.5 metres in its test drive.

"This is really the start of our journey here," said Rich Rieber, the NASA engineer who plotted the route.

"This is going to be like the Odyssey, adventures along the way, hopefully no Cyclops, and I’m sure there will be stories aplenty written about it."

Flight controllers are still checking Perseverance's systems and everything is working so far.

“I don't think I've ever been happier to see wheel tracks and I've seen a lot of them," said engineer Anais Zarifian.

The plan is for the rover to collect rocks at an ancient river delta. But before then it will release an experimental helicopter named Ingenuity that it brought with it.

Perseverance is NASA's largest and most elaborate rover yet and became the ninth US spacecraft to successfully land on Mars on February 18.

NASA scientists, meanwhile, announced Friday that they’ve named Perseverance’s touchdown site in honour of the late science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, who grew up next door to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

She was one of the first African Americans to receive mainstream attention for science fiction.