NASA’s Perseverance rover has sent back astonishing video footage of its 18 February landing on Mars. These videos give us the most intimate look ever at the process of setting a spacecraft down on the Martian surface.
During the landing, five cameras took videos: two on the back of the capsule holding the rover, one on the sky crane that acted as a jet pack to lower the rover its final 2000 metres or so to the surface and two on the rover itself.
The videos show the parachute opening to slow down the spacecraft, and then the heat shield dropping to the surface of Mars once Perseverance is moving slow enough not to need it anymore.
“You can get a sense really of how violent that parachute deploy and inflation are,” said Al Chen, a Perseverance engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, during a press conference. “The parachute is packed so densely that the pack is basically the same density as oak, and it’s about 150 pounds. It gets launched out of the spacecraft with a mortar, which is basically a cannon, with a muzzle velocity of around 100 miles per hour.”
The footage then shows the ground as Perseverance hurtles towards it. Finally, different camera angles show both the rover and the sky crane that is lowering it to the surface, as well as wind from the crane’s thrusters blowing up dust during the final stages of the landing. The rover touched down at about 2.6 kilometres per hour and then pyrotechnically fired blades to sever it from the crane.
During the landing, the spacecraft collected about 30 gigabytes of information and more than 23,000 images, said Perseverance team member Dave Gruel at JPL during the press conference. NASA has begun to release these images to the public. The team has also released the first audio ever recorded on Mars. While the microphone didn’t work during the landing, it did record the Martian breeze blowing over the rover once it was on the surface.
In the clip below you can hear the high-pitched sound of the rover with a lower rumble of slight wind:
The first few checks on the spacecraft’s status have gone well, so the team is now moving on to perform further checks and calibrations. “The wheels, if you noticed in the image now, are off to the side. We will be performing a wiggle, we’ll straighten those up, we’ll do a short drive and… deploy the robotic arm and then continue with further in-depth checkouts,” said mission team member Jessica Samuels at JPL in the press conference.
After these checks, Perseverance will begin roving the Red Planet, taking samples that will be returned to Earth by a planned future mission and looking for signs that Mars may have once hosted life. Researchers have already begun analysing the images from near where the rover landed to determine what types of rocks are there and how they were formed.
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Article amended on
23 February 2021
We clarified the speed at which the rover touched down
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