NASA’s Perseverance rover keeps breaking records on Mars. 1046 feet in a day?

Here's how it traverses Martian terrain with little human intervention.
Chris Young

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission has cost more than $2 billion so far, so it would be a disaster if it hit an insurmountable obstacle and became stuck in the red planet's harsh terrain.

So how exactly does Perseverance get around while keeping out of harm's way? Here's how Perseverance has broken the Mars driving record — of 319 meters (1046 feet) in one day — with minimal human intervention.

Traversing Mars

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover mission is responsible for a series of historic firsts, including the first controlled flight on another planet and the first extraction of oxygen on Mars.

At times, the incredible discoveries made by the rover gain more attention than the actual technology employed to make those discoveries and achieve those historic firsts.

One impressive and arguably undervalued technological feature of the Perseverance rover is its incredible capacity for mapping its surroundings in real-time and traveling Martian terrain with practically no human intervention.

NASA's Perseverance Mars rover is currently using its self-driving capabilities to carry out a three-mile journey across the Jezero Crater to a river delta as it searches for signs of ancient life on the red planet.

The rover is traversing Martian terrain to collect rock and soil samples that will eventually be returned to Earth via an ambitious mission using technology that has yet to be developed.

Though the rover features impressive self-driving capabilities, assigned rover drivers on Earth still map out the machine's route before allowing it to "take the wheel".

These drivers use specially-designed 3D glasses to assign specific stops and map out the rover's route. Once they are done, Perseverance's auto-navigation system, known as AutoNav, maps out the surrounding terrain using 3D mapping technology. It is able to detect potential obstacles and hazards and plan a route around any of these without any human input. This allows Perseverance to traverse Mars' rough terrain at an impressive speed.

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Scouting Perseverance's route from the sky

Another impressive wild card in NASA's arsenal is the Mars Ingenuity helicopter. Last month, NASA announced it was extending the Martian helicopter's operations through September.

The Ingenuity helicopter was originally designed to conduct the first controlled flight on another planet and then fly a further four times before retiring. The flying machine has far exceeded those original parameters and it has now performed more than 20 flights on Mars. In its latest flights, the helicopter has essentially served as an aerial scout for the Perseverance rover as it investigates the ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater, in its search for signs of ancient alien life.

It is one of many technological features that make Perseverance the most advanced machine on Mars to date, and that may help to uncover the signs of life outside of Earth that we have been looking for for so long.