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NASA’s Mars orbiter captures image of Perseverance’s parachute phase

Spectacular footage of NASA’s Perseverance rover safely touching down on the surface of Mars last week showed close-up pictures of not only the rover but also the descent stage that lowered it.

Cameras fixed to both vehicles captured the dramatic landing from multiple angles and in astonishing clarity, providing space fans with the highest-quality footage from NASA’s five rover landings to date.

But as the spacecraft carrying Perseverance descended toward the Martian surface, the entire event was being tracked by another spacecraft more than 400 miles away.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched from Earth in 2005 before reaching the red planet the following year.

As the Perseverance spacecraft floated toward the planet with an open parachute (yes, the one that contained a hidden message), the orbiter captured a remarkable image that shows the scale of the red planet against the car-sized rover.

The orbiter used its HiRISE camera to grab the image, which NASA posted on Twitter this week.

How’s THAT for fancy shooting? During the parachute phase of @NASAPersevere’s descent to the surface, the powerful HiRISE camera aboard Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter actually captured the moment mid-flight: #CountdownToMars

— NASA Mars (@NASAMars) February 23, 2021

“The descent stage holding NASA’s Perseverance rover can be seen falling through the Martian atmosphere, its parachute trailing behind, in this image taken on February 18, 2021, by the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,” the space agency explained in notes on its website. “The ancient river delta, which is the target of the Perseverance mission, can be seen entering Jezero Crater from the left.”

NASA said HiRISE was about 435 miles (700 km) from Perseverance and traveling at about 6,750 mph (3 km per second) when the image was taken.

“The extreme distance and high speeds of the two spacecraft were challenging conditions that required precise timing and for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to both pitch upward and roll hard to the left so that Perseverance was viewable by HiRISE at just the right moment,” the space agency added.

The orbiter’s mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the same unit that’s overseeing the Perseverance mission. The University of Arizona provided, and operates, the HiRISE camera.

Perseverance is currently undergoing checks to ensure it’s in full working order following its long trip from Earth and harrowing landing procedure. Once it gets the green light, the rover will begin searching the Jezero Crater for signs of ancient life, among other tasks. It’s already sent back some awesome high-quality images of its new home — you can check them out here and here.

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Trevor Mogg
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