NASA was pleased to learn yesterday that the rover they spent considerable time and expense to drop on a completely different planet can, in fact, rove. The Curiosity rover took its first test drive on Wednesday, rolling 15 feet forward, turning 120 degrees, then backing up 8 feet. It spent much of the short trip sending back pictures to prove that it was actually moving and also not sinking into the dust. The successful test mean the whole journey was not for nothing and the robot can begin the next phase of its mission.
Its next assignment is to drive about 1,300 feet — a trip that could take more than a month — to check out some bedrock before heading to the main destination, Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high peak where scientists believe Curiosity may find evidence of Mars' watery past. NASA also announced that they've dubbed Curiosity's home base "Bradbury Landing" in honor of the author of The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, who would have turned 92 on Wednesday.
So now we know that Curiosity can take photos, move, Tweet, shoot lasers, vaporize rocks and generally listen when people back on Earth tell it to do something. So far NASA has detected only one broken part, a wind sensor that may have conked out during the landing. (Don't worry, it has plenty more.) Its two-year mission hasn't even really started yet, but it's a great sign that after a risky and heartstopping landing on the red planet, all the gear appears to be in working order.
Oh, and if you need a reminder of how crazy that landing was, here's a newly enhanced high-definition POV video of the Curiosity's rapid fire descent to the Martian surface. (That thing you see falling at the beginning is the rover's heat shield being jettisoned just before the final approach.)