NASA’s shiny new Perseverance rover has been hanging out on the Martian surface for about two weeks now. It hasn’t conducted much in the way of scientific observation, but that’s because it’s still waking up from the months-long, ice-cold nap that it took during the trip from Earth to the Red Planet. The rover appears to be in great shape, but going through all of the checkboxes to give the rover a clean bill of health takes some time. Now, NASA has posted a video showing one of the biggest hurdles — ensuring the rover’s robotic arm is fully functional — has finally been cleared.
In the video tweeted from the official Perseverance rover account, we can see some of the important movements the rover has performed in the days since landing. These might seem insignificant, but they’re actually the first step in what will hopefully be a long adventure for the rover as it studies Mars and searches for signs of past life.
If NASA’s previous rover missions are any indication, Perseverance has a long life ahead of it. Previous NASA rovers have outlived their designed lifespan and original mission timelines many times over, with the Opportunity rover being the most stunning example of this.
The Opportunity rover landed on Mars with a 90-day mission timeline. As long as NASA could keep the rover up and running for three months while it explored the Martian landscape, the mission would be considered a success. That was in late January of 2004, and the rover exceeded expectations to an absurd degree. When the rover finally stopped functioning — a victim of a planet-wide dust storm that prevented the rover from gathering solar power, effectively freezing it to death — it had been conducting science on the surface for over 14 years.
So, with that kind of a pedigree to live up to, it’s incredibly important that Perseverance is in tip-top shape as it starts its journey. As we’ve seen with other NASA hardware on Mars, having a functional robotic arm can come in handy. The InSight lander has probably used its arm more than any robot on Mars over such a short time on the planet, relying on it to stuff its “mole” probe into the ground after it became clear that it wasn’t functioning as intended. That effort proved fruitless, but it certainly wasn’t the lander’s fault, and the arm performed well outside of its intended uses.
In the case of Perseverance, the arm is incredibly capable. It can stretch a remarkable 7 feet and is equipped with a variety of instruments that will help the rover snag samples of the planet’s surface for further study. The arm will hold drill bits and other tools for navigation as well as analysis.
The space agency will be holding a press conference on Friday to offer an update on the rover and the mission, but based on what we’ve seen from it so far, it looks like Perseverance is just about ready to start its scientific journey.