Late author Ray Bradbury probably would have been pleased.
On what would have been the science fiction author's 92nd birthday, the Martian rover Curiosity left tire tracks on the Red Planet, having successfully driven over the firm terrain for almost five minutes.
Engineers hosting a news conference at said Wednesday Curiosity's landing spot on Mars will be named Bradbury Landing. The influential author died earlier this year.
"This was not a difficult choice for the science team," Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity, said during the morning news conference. "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."
With the rover's first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity ventured some 20 feet from the spot The drive combined forward, turn and reverse movements and, most importantly, said JPL's Matt Heverly, it confirmed the health of the rover's mobility system and produced its first wheel tracks on Mars. The tracks were documented in images taken after the drive.
"We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead," Heverly said during the news conference.
Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, where it will perform instrument checks and study the surroundings. Then it will embark toward its first driving destination: approximately 1,300 feet to the east-southeast.
"Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care," said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL.
Fantastic as it is, he said, he urged people to keep their enthusiam in check.
"We're 16 days in to a two-year mission,'' Theisinger said, noting the rover still needs to collect soil samples and has yet to set its arm down on the ground.
Acknowledging an ion Tuesday, Theisinger said so far he's proud of his team's accomplishments - not the least of which were launching on time and landing on Mars, he said to a roomful of laughter.
"So far it's been wonderful,'' he said.
Curiosity began a two-year prime mission on Mars when the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered the car-size rover to its landing target inside Gale Crater on Aug. 5. The mission will use 10 science instruments on the rover to assess whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.