That magical spot in Jezero crater where NASA’s Perseverance rover made its historic landing last month has been named “Octavia E. Butler Landing” in honor of the late sci-fi author.
“I can think of no better person to mark this historic landing site than Octavia E. Butler, who not only grew up next door to JPL [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory] in Pasadena, but she also inspired millions with her visions of a science-based future,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a NASA release.
Indeed, NASA got it right with this one, as Butler is a worthy choice for such a prestigious honor.
Butler, who died in 2006 at the age of 58, was the first African American woman to win the Hugo and Nebula awards and the first sci-fi writer to be honored with a MacArthur Fellowship. The acclaimed author is known for such works as the Xenogenesis trilogy and the Parable and Patternist series, in which she critiqued humanity’s hierarchical and prejudicial tendencies, especially those based on race, sex, and class.
“Butler’s protagonists embody determination and inventiveness, making her a perfect fit for the Perseverance rover mission and its theme of overcoming challenges,” explained Kathryn Stack Morgan, deputy project scientist for Perseverance, in the NASA press release. “Butler inspired and influenced the planetary science community and many beyond, including those typically under-represented in STEM fields.”
The Perseverance rover—now officially at Octavia E. Butler Landing inside Jezero crater—successfully completed its first test drive on March 4.
During the 33-minute-long excursion, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission specialists had the rover move forward 13 feet (4 meters), turn 150 degrees to the left while standing in place, and then back up 8 feet (2.5 meters) into a new Martian parking spot. In total, Percy traveled 21.3 feet (6.5 meters)—a small step for a rover but a giant leap for the team back home.
Percy’s six-wheeled drive “responded superbly,” and the team is “confident” that the drive system is “good to go,” said Anais Zarifian, Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mobility test bed engineer at JPL. Eventually, the rover will travel distances closer to 650 feet (200 meters) as part of the mission’s scientific work.
The rover’s software was recently updated, and various instruments have now been deployed, including a pair of wind sensors and ground-penetrating radar. The machine’s 7-foot-long (2-meter) robotic arm was also put into action, as the team flexed all five joints during a two-hour test. This was important, as the arm will eventually allow for close-up observations of geological features and the drilling of samples.
Looking ahead, the rover will go on longer test drives, and its many instruments will continue to be tested and calibrated. As part of this commissioning phase, NASA will deploy the Ingenuity helicopter, which is currently attached to the belly of the rover. The team will soon select an airfield from which to fly the small aerial vehicle, in what’s poised to be a historic test.
NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in Jezero crater on February 18. A primary goal of the two-year mission is to search this crater—a former lake and river delta—for signs of former life.