Following the incredible landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars last week, NASA has released a treasure trove of data about the landing, including stunning video of the rover touching down on the surface captured from multiple different angles.
This is the first time a landing on Mars has been captured in such detail, thanks to the cameras added to the rover’s Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) system.
“These videos and images are the stuff of our dreams,” said Al Chen, Entry, Descent, and Landing team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in a press conference.
First video of a rover landing on another planet
The footage was captured by cameras placed all over the EDL system. It includes a clip captured from the top of the spacecraft looking up as the parachute opens in just 7/10ths of a second, which Chen describes as a “textbook” opening, with no twisting of the lines.
There’s also footage from the rover looking down, which starts with the heat shield falling away. The heat shield protects the rover during the extreme temperatures as it enters the atmosphere, and it can be jettisoned as the rover approaches the ground.
Chen pointed out a benefit of studying this footage in detail, in that it reveals unexpected engineering data. If you look very closely, you can see that one of the nine springs that helped the heatshield release has come loose. This didn’t pose any risk to the rover, but it’s a useful tidbit for the engineers for future missions.
“It’s something we didn’t expect and wouldn’t have seen if we didn’t have the camera system,” Chen said.
Perhaps the most incredible footage is the rover’s view of the surface of Mars approaching, pockmarked and cratered and in that beautiful red color. The spacecraft rocks around under the parachute, then there is a flash of white as the backshell separates. Then the landing maneuvers begin, and you get a glimpse of the nearby delta.
When the spacecraft gets closer still to the ground, the jetpack engines of the descent stage kick in and you can see the dust on the ground being kicked up.
For an alternate view of the landing, there’s also footage of the rover being lowered from the descent stage on cables. In addition to the cables holding the weight of the rover, there’s also a gold umbilical cord that is transferring data — including the EDL camera data.
Finally, there’s footage looking up from the rover at the descent stage firing its thrusters. You can see the stage releasing the rover and then flying away to avoid damaging the rover.
Even though there’s just a few minutes of footage, there’s an unbelievable amount of information there. “I can and have watched those videos for hours,” Chen said. “I keep seeing new stuff every time.”
See Perseverance on the surface of Mars
There are already early images coming in from the rover on the surface of Mars.
These have been stitched into a panorama image of the rover and its surroundings, which you can see in higher resolution on NASA’s website:
And if you want even more pictures of Mars, raw images are already being made available on the Mars 2020 mission website, where you can see the black-and-white images captured by the engineering cameras.
One last surprise
There isn’t only video of Mars, though — there is even an audio recording of the sounds of Mars. Perseverance has a number of microphones thaty captured both the whirring of the rover and a gust of wind blowing over the surface.
This is the first time that sounds have been recorded from the surface of Mars.
Firstly, there is the original audio, with rover noise. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Then the filtered version, without rover noise. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech):
Perseverance EDL Camera Suite Lead Dave Gruel invited people to close their eyes, lean back, and picture themselves on the surface of Mars, listening to the sound of the wind.
Just getting started
This is just the beginning of Perseverance’s mission to search for evidence of ancient life, and already the mission has sent back unprecedented images, video, and audio.
“For those who wonder how you land on Mars, or why it is so difficult, or how cool it would be to do so, you need look no further,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement.
“Perseverance is just getting started, and already has provided some of the most iconic visuals in space exploration history. It reinforces the remarkable level of engineering and precision that is required to build and fly a vehicle to the red planet,” he said.
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