PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Curiosity took its first test drive around the gravel-strewn Martian terrain Wednesday, preparation for the ultimate road trip to find out if the red planet's environment could have supported life.
The six-wheel NASA rover did not stray far from the spot where it landed more than two weeks ago. It rolled forward about 15 feet, rotated to a right angle and reversed a short distance, leaving tracks in the ancient soil.
Mission managers were ecstatic that the maiden trek of the $2.5 billion mission was glitch-free.
"It couldn't be more important," said project manager Peter Theisinger at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We built a rover. So unless the rover roves, we really haven't accomplished anything ... It's a big moment."
Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator Aug. 5 to explore whether the environment once supported microbial life. The touchdown site has been named Bradbury Landing in honor of the late "The Martian Chronicles" author Ray Bradbury, who would have turned 92 on Wednesday.
This 360-degree panorama provided by NASA Wednesday Aug. 22, 2012 shows evidence of a successful first test drive for NASA's Curiosity rover. The rover made its first move, Wednesday, going forward about 15 feet (4.5 meters), rotating 120 degrees and then reversing about 8 feet (2.5 meters). Curiosity is about 20 feet (6 meters) from its landing site, now named Bradbury Landing. NASA/JPL-Caltech
In this frame of a high definition stop motion video taken during the NASA rover Mars landing and provided by the space agency on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, the heat shield falls away during Curiosity's descent to the surface of Mars on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. Curiosity is the first spacecraft to record a landing on another planet. The six-wheel rover arrived on Aug. 5 to begin a two-year mission to examine whether the Martian environment was hospitable for microbial life. NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box. The rover is descending toward the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe ''Mt. Sharp.'' From the perspective of the orbiter, the parachute and Curiosity are flying at an angle relative to the surface, so the landing site does not appear directly below the rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This photo provided by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows the gravel on the surface of Mars' Gale Crater where the Curiosity rover landed late Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012 PDT. On the horizon is the rim of the crater. Part of the spring that released the lens' dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. At top left is part of the rover's power supply. The lines across the top are an artifact from the sensor since the camera is looking into the sun. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image taken by NASA's Curiosity shows what lies ahead for the rover -- its main science target, informally called Mount Sharp, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. The rover's shadow can be seen in the foreground, and the dark bands beyond are dunes. Rising up in the distance is the highest peak of Mount Sharp at a height of about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers), taller than Mt. Whitney in California. The Curiosity team hopes to drive the rover to the mountain to investigate its lower layers, which scientists think hold clues to past environmental change. This image was captured by the rover's front left Hazard-Avoidance camera at full resolution shortly after it landed. It has not yet been linearized to remove the distorted appearance that results from its fisheye lens. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Aug. 7, 2012 - This image shows one of the first views from NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT (early morning hours Aug. 6 EDT). It was taken through a ''fisheye'' wide-angle lens on one of the rover's Hazard-Avoidance cameras. These engineering cameras are located at the rover's base. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image released on Wednesday Aug. 8, 2012 by NASA, shows a mosaic of the first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground. The foreground shows two distinct zones of excavation likely carved out by blasts from the rover's descent stage thrusters. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Aug. 8, 2012 - This Picasso-like self portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover was taken by its Navigation cameras, located on the now-upright mast. The camera snapped pictures 360-degrees around the rover, while pointing down at the rover deck, up and straight ahead. Those images are shown here in a polar projection. Most of the tiles are thumbnails, or small copies of the full-resolution images that have not been sent back to Earth yet. Two of the tiles are full-resolution. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This mosaic image shows part of the left side of NASA's Curiosity rover and two blast marks from the descent stage's rocket engines. The images that were used to make the mosaic were obtained by the rover's Navigation cameras on August 7, 2012. The rim of Gale Crater is the lighter colored band across the horizon. The back of the rover is to the left. The blast marks can be seen in the middle of the image. Several small bits of rock and soil, which were made airborne by the rocket engines, are visible on the rover's top deck. NASA/JPL-Caltech /
In this photo released by NASA Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012, a crisp view from inside Gale Crater shows a 360-degree, full-resolution panorama from NASA's Curiosity rover shows the area all around the rover within Gale Crater on Mars. The rover's deck is to the left and far right. The rover's "head" or mast, where the Navigation cameras that took this picture are located, casts a shadow seen near the center. The rim of Gale Crater is to the left, and the base of Mount Sharp is to the center-right. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Aug. 14, 2012 - Gale Crater, Mars - This color-enhanced view shows NASA's Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. It was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image released on Friday Aug. 17, 2012 shows bedrock that was exposed after Curiosity's rocket stage fired its engines that blew away soil from the Martian surface. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Aug. 17, 2012 - Gale Crater, Mars - A full-resolution self-portrait of the deck of NASA's Curiosity rover from the rover's navigation cameras. The back of the rover can be seen at the top left of the image, and two of the rover's right-side wheels can be seen on the left. Part of the pointy rim of Gale Crater forms the lighter color strip in the background. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This Aug. 18, 2012 image provided by NASA shows the Curiosity rover's landing site and Mount Sharp in the distance. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image provided Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012, by NASA shows a close-up view of a Martian rock that the NASA rover Curiosity zapped at using its laser instrument. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Aug. 22, 2012 - Gale Crater, Mars - A turret of tools at the end of Curiosity's extended robotic arm can be seen by a Navcam. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Aug. 22, 2012 - Gale Crater, Mars - This image released by NASA shows tracks made by Curiosity's tires during its first test drive as seen by Rear Navcam. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image dated Wednesday Aug. 22, 2012 and provided by NASA shows the Curiosity rover's wheel tracks on the surface of Mars an image sent from one of the rover's cameras. The image was posted on a Tweet by JPL mission engineer Allen Chen. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This 360-degree panorama shows evidence of a successful first test drive for NASA's Curiosity rover. On Aug. 22, 2012, the rover made its first move, going forward about 15 feet (4.5 meters), rotating 120 degrees and then reversing about 8 feet (2.5 meters). Curiosity is about 20 feet (6 meters) from its landing site, now named Bradbury Landing. Visible in the image are the rover's first track marks. A small 3.5-inch (9-centimeter) rock can be seen where the drive began, which engineers say was partially under one of the rear wheels. Scour marks left by the rover's descent stage during landing can be seen to the left and right of the wheel tracks. The lower slopes of Mount Sharp are visible at the top of the picture, near the center. This mosaic from the rover's Navigation camera is made up of 23 full-resolution frames, displayed in a cylindrical projection. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Aug. 22, 2012 - Gale Crater, Mars - This image released by NASA shows tracks made by Curiosity's tires during its first test drive as seen by Navcam: Left A. NASA/JPL-Caltech
This image provided by NASA shows the Gale Crater Martian landing site for the Curiosity Mars rover. The Gale Crater is approximately the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The image was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This oblique view of Gale, and Mount Sharp in the center, is derived from a combination of elevation and imaging data from three Mars orbiters. The view is looking toward the southeast. Mount Sharp rises about 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) above the floor of Gale Crater. NASA/JPL-Caltech