This photo made available by NASA was taken during the first drive of the Perseverance rover on Mars on Thursday, March 4, 2021. Perseverance landed on Feb. 18, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP

It crept at a speed that rush-hour veterans could appreciate — all of 21.3 feet in 33 minutes — but Perseverance has executed its first drive on the surface of Mars, NASA announced Friday.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see wheel tracks in my life,” Anais Zarifian, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a news briefing. The vehicle also managed to drive in reverse for 8 feet.

NASA said that the rover’s adventure on Thursday foreshadows regular trips of 650 feet or more, and eventually the plan is for it to gather rock samples that can be analyzed on Earth, all in the pursuit of finding evidence of life and perhaps unlocking some of the secrets of the universe.

In its quest to find life on Mars, the rover mission is having a remarkable week. It might have been one slow ride, but this was a giant step for mankind, said Zarifian.

“When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive,” she said.

In the two weeks since Perseverance touched down, its multiple images included one of layered rock, possibly suggesting the presence of an ancient river, said NASA scientist Katie Stack Morgan.

Eventually the mission’s science team plans to take close-up looks at the geological features of the Jezero Crater, which is believed to have been the site of a lake 3.5 billion years ago, said director Robert Hogg.

And now for the weather on Mars, courtesy of new NASA lander. NASA officials said they had not yet determined when they would test the helicopter that had been attached to Perseverance.

Overall, the mission has unfolded as expected, Hogg said.

“We haven’t had any hardware issues,” he said. “Everything has been working. It’s actually been amazingly smooth.”

And Perseverance did not receive a speeding ticket.

Story by Anthony R. Wood.