NASA’s Perseverance Rover is practically full of cameras. And those cameras were busy during the rover’s breathtaking descent to the surface of Mars. Now NASA has released pictures and videos of the blessed event.
The arrival of Perseverance and landing safely on Mars is an amazing feat for NASA and for all of us. Each of the previous rover landings were amazing too, but endurance feels different. Every mission to Mars has expanded our understanding, but persistence has a chance of actually finding fossil evidence of ancient life.
If it finds this evidence, it will be one of those events that will change humanity’s understanding of our place in nature. You can relate it up there to Copernicus’ model of the earth orbiting the sun or Darwin’s theory of evolution.
With all of that on the balance sheet, NASA’s latest video makes it all the more compelling.
If you weren’t aware, Perseverance landed safely on Mars last Thursday. The rover is orienting itself and is currently testing its systems. This phase of the mission will take weeks. In the meantime, NASA has compiled this video of the landing. This is “chills running up your spine” stuff.
The video begins when the persistence is about 11 km above the Martian surface and the Jezero crater is below. Cameras pointing upwards first record the popping of the parachute. After the heat shield is thrown off, the rover’s cameras bring the ground into view. The radar will also start reading the surface in preparation for a safe landing.
NASA is having fun. The strange red pattern on the bottom of Perseverance’s parachute contains a 10-bit binary pattern that says “Dare Mighty Things”. Photo credit: NASA / JPL / Caltech
“Now we finally have a front row peek at what we call ‘the seven minutes of terror’ as we land on Mars,” said Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, who runs the mission managed for the agency. “From the explosive opening of the parachute to the cloud of the lander, which sends dust and debris flying when it touches down, it’s absolutely impressive.”
It is difficult to see features on the Martian surface when they become visible. A small crater comes into view of the camera at a height of about 1 km. This is likely one of the small craters in the static image of the Perseverance landing site and the possible crossing below. Two small craters flank the red teardrop landing indicator, and the video image appears to match the one on the left in the image below.
This is one of the small craters in Jezero crater that is drifting in and out of the landing camera. Photo credit: NASA / JPL / Caltech.
NASA gave us some notable audio as well. You can hear the rover itself as well as a breeze blowing and blowing through the Jezero crater.
There will be many discoveries and amazing moments during the Perseverance mission. Its main job will take a year, but the rover will most likely take much longer. The rover won’t just examine scientific targets. It will collect samples for later return to Earth and will also test a small helicopter called the Ingenuity.
Will the rover find solid evidence of the old life? Who knows? However, if it does, then that discovery is likely incremental, as with many other scientific discoveries. It took years to confirm that ancient Mars was a humid, warm place, and it will likely be years before science can confirm an ancient Martian life.
This is what makes moments like the landing of persistence so important. It’s a single, discreet event that deserves recognition and gives all of us a chance to celebrate NASA and all of their hard work. It is also an opportunity to celebrate humanity and our perseverance and see what great things dedicated groups of people can do.
This still image is from a video captured with a camera on the Skycrane as it lowers stamina in the swirling dust thrown up by the lander missiles. Photo credit: NASA / JPL / Caltech
So, if you have a friend or spouse, or someone else who gently mocks you for being emotional about another spacecraft landing, remind them of the bigger picture.
“For those wondering how to land on Mars – or why it is so difficult – or how cool it would be to do this – look no further,” NASA acting administrator Steve Jurczyk said in one Press release. “Persistence is just beginning, and it has already produced some of the most iconic images in the history of space exploration. It reinforces the remarkable level of engineering and precision required to build a vehicle and fly to the Red Planet. “
In the end it is about humanity and nature and humanity finding their place in nature. If people don’t sense this, you may need new friends.