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WASHINGTON: The Mars rover Perseverance has successfully conducted its first test drive on the Red Planet, the US space agency NASA said Friday.

The six-wheeled rover travelled about 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in 33 minutes on Thursday, NASA said.

It drove four meters forward, turned in place 150 degrees to the left, and then backed up 2.5 meters, leaving tire tracks in the Martian dust.

“This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin,” said Anais Zarifian, Perseverance mobility test bed engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Zarifian said the test drive went “incredibly well” and represented a “huge milestone for the mission and the mobility team.” “We’re going to do some longer drives,” she added. “This is just the beginning.”

NASA engineers said they were studying possible routes for longer rover voyages on the surface of Mars.

A slightly longer trip was planned for Friday, and perhaps another Saturday if all goes well, NASA said.

The rover can cover 200 meters per Martian day, which is slightly longer than a day on Earth.

And it goes five times faster than Curiosity, its predecessor, which is still functioning eight years after landing on Mars.

The rover’s primary mission will last just over two years but it is likely to remain operational well beyond that.

Over the coming years, Perseverance will attempt to collect 30 rock and soil samples in sealed tubes to be sent back to Earth sometime in the 2030s for analysis.

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