The full-scale engineering model of NASA's Perseverance rover has put some dirt on its wheels. This vehicle system test bed (VSTB) rover moved into its home — a garage facing the Mars Yard at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California — on Sept. 4, 2020. It drove onto simulated Martian surface of the Mars Yard — a dirt field at JPL studded with rocks and other obstacles — for the first time on Sept. 8. The VSTB rover is also known as OPTIMISM (Operational Perseverance Twin for Integration of Mechanisms and Instruments Sent to Mars).
A key objective for Perseverance's mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will also characterize the planet's climate and geology, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first planetary spacecraft to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.
The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA's Artemis lunar exploration plans.
JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, built and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
Learn more about the Mars 2020 mission at: https://www.nasa.gov/perseverance