NASA announced Wednesday that its Mars rover Curiosity began driving from its landing site on the Red Planet, which has been named Bradbury Landing in honor of "The Martian Chronicles" author Ray Bradbury, who was born Aug. 22, 1920.
Being the first ever movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity's drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments, placing the rover approximately 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed Aug. 5.
"This was not a difficult choice for the science team," said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. "Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars."
According to NASA, the first test drive confirmed that Curiosity's mobility system is in good health. The drive also produced the rover's first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive.
The space agency said that Curiosity would spend more days working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before moving toward its first driving destination roughly 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.
The science team has begun pointing instruments on the rover's mast in order to investigate specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the spacecraft's landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material.
According to the instrument's principal investigator, Roger Weins of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, measurements made on the rocks in this scoured-out feature called Goulburn suggest a basaltic composition.
"These may be pieces of basalt within a sedimentary deposit," Weins said.
Meanwhile, scientists discovered a damaged wind sensor during checkups. Although the cause of the damage is yet to be determined, one possibility could be pebbles that landed on the rover's instrument deck at the time of landing.
Deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada said that the broken sensor wouldn't put the mission at risk since there's a second operating sensor to do the job.