The mars rover, with it’s large solar panel and 6 oversized wheels, has sent back countless amazing photos but it wasn’t the first robot to venture to the red planet. The first was Prop-M a small 10 pound robot that landed on Mars in 1971. Three facts stand out about Mars 2 and Mars 3, the missions that carried Prop-M, they where Soviet projects, they ran for less than a minute on the Martian surface and they didn’t use wheels….. they skied.
The robots were sent by the Russians to study Martian soil and, being connected to their spacecraft by umbilical cords, they could move no more than 15 meters from the landing site.
According to the website CyberneticZoo the robots moved over the surface using two skis, which are on the sides, slightly raise the unit above the surface. On the surface, in the scope of cameras, it would put the manipulator. Two thin bars at the front (if you look closely at the photo, you’ll see them) are the sensors to detect obstacles. Movable apparatus could determine which side is the obstacle to retreat from it and try to get around.
But the run wasn’t a long one. The total time the robots were confirmed to have ski on mars was only 20 seconds.