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Mars rover Perseverance sets distance record on the Red Planet

A "selfie" captured by NASA's Perseverance rover, which is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars.
A "selfie" captured by NASA's Perseverance rover, which is searching for signs of ancient life on Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The Perseverance rover's self-driving function is working just great on Mars, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The mission, not quite at one Earth year on Mars, has topped a new distance record for Red Planet rovers. On Friday (Feb. 4) Perseverance made the longest drive completed in a single Martian day, or sol, traveling 806.3 feet (245.76 meters), the rover's Twitter feed reported. 

Previously that record was held by NASA's Opportunity rover, which traversed 702 feet (214 meters) in a single day in 2015, according to NASA (opens in new tab)

"After a few months exploring this area, I'm on the move. Thanks to my self-driving function, I can cover more ground in a day than ever before," the tweet (opens in new tab) read, adding, "Places to go, rocks to see."

Related: Where to find the latest Mars photos from NASA's Perseverance rover

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The rover had been squatting in place for several weeks to troubleshoot a rock sample it collected, which temporarily choked the machine's "throat" with Mars rocks. With that problem now cleared, Perseverance is doing some last-minute scouting before attempting a multi-kilometer drive to a nearby delta, recent blog posts indicated.

"The science team has been hard at work preparing for our next phase of science operations, which will take us towards [a] western delta," a Jan. 31 blog post (opens in new tab) indicated. 

Deltas are areas where water flowed, which could provide a rich environment for the rover's ultimate mission to collect samples that could have hosted ancient microbes.

"To prepare, the team has been taking long-distance observations of the delta and layers along Artuby ridge with both the Mastcam-Z and SuperCam instruments," the blog post continued, but it suggested there will be a few pit stops first.

Mission managers must strike a delicate balance between staying in one spot to perform sample collection and moving the rover along to look at other zones in the area. 

In the case of the predecessor mission Curiosity, for example, there were periodic debates about how quickly to push the rover to its ultimate destination: Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons). Curiosity was also finding plenty of signs of water in flatter areas nearby, encouraging periodic pit stops.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.