As NASA’s Perseverance rover continues to undertake checks following its successful arrival on Mars last week, we can now see the first image of the car-sized robotic explorer taken from high above by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Captured by the orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera as it passed overhead at an altitude of around 180 miles, the rover appears as a tiny dot on the vast and desolate Martian surface.
Another image of the landscape (below) points out the various parts of the spacecraft that helped to get Perseverance safely onto the red planet following a challenging landing procedure known in the industry as the “seven minutes of terror.”
The satellite picture shows the heat shield, which detached from the spacecraft first during a dramatic descent that was captured in an incredible video. We can also see the back shell and parachute, which helped to slow the speed of the spacecraft on its way down. Finally, a short distance away, we can see the descent stage, which lowered Perseverance to the Martian surface using cables before flying a safe distance away to perform a controlled crash landing.
The University of Arizona, which operates the orbiter’s HiRise camera, said that while the spacecraft components are easy to spot now, a gradual covering of Martian dust will see the space junk “slowly fade into the background over years.”
The orbiter, meanwhile, will continue to photograph Perseverance as it sets about exploring the planet for signs of ancient life, and gathering rock and soil samples for later return to Earth.
The mission will also see the first helicopter flight on another planet when Ingenuity, a diminutive aircraft currently attached to Perseverance’s underbelly, lifts off in the coming months.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrived at Mars in 2006. The spacecraft is operating well beyond initial expectations, with NASA hoping to keep it running at least until the end of this decade.
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