24 Aug 2012

NASA robot makes first tracks on Mars

11:30 am on 24 August 2012

The US space agency's robot which landed on Mars two weeks ago has finally moved a few metres, reassuring engineers that its locomotion system is in full working order.

The NASA rover Curiosity rolled forward 4.5 metres, turned clockwise on the spot for about 120 degrees, and then reversed up 2.5 metres.

It took about five minutes to complete the manoeuvre, the BBC reports. Another 10 minutes or so was spent photographing the outcome and recording the vehicle's historic first tracks in Martian soil.

The rover is now pointing south in the general direction of Mt Sharp, the big mountain at the centre of the equatorial Gale Crater.

Scientists expect to find rocks at the base of the peak that were laid down billions of years ago in the presence of abundant water.

First, though, Curiosity will visit a piece of ground some 400 metres to the east to begin analysing the geology of the crater.

Meanwhile, NASA has named the spot on which the robot landed after science-fiction author Ray Bradbury.

The BBC reports the celebrated American writer, who died in June, was an enthusiastic supporter of the space agency.