The parachute that helped carry NASA’s Perseverance rover to the surface of Mars last week featured a hidden message. And space fans have managed to decode it.
During a press conference earlier this week, NASA released breathtaking footage of its spacecraft carrying the car-sized rover toward the Martian surface.
Upward-facing cameras on the spacecraft’s descent stage showed the deployment of the parachute, which at first glance appeared to display nothing more than a simple red and white design.
But during Monday’s news briefing, Allen Chen — the entry, descent, and landing lead for the mission — confirmed that there was actually a hidden message in the pattern, and challenged space fans to work out what it said.
Chen said space scientists are always keen to inspire others to enter the field, adding, “[For that purpose] we sometimes leave messages in our work for others to find … so we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work.”
It wasn’t long before enthusiastic codebreakers started posting the answer online. It turns out the message was written in binary computer code, with the pattern translating as, “Dare mighty things.”
Adam Steltzner, chief engineer for the mission, later tweeted an image confirming the answer.
It looks like the internet has cracked the code in something like 6 hours! Oh internet is there anything you can’t do? For those who just want to know: #Mars2020 #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/yTJCEnbuLY
— Adam Steltzner (@steltzner) February 23, 2021
An AP report noted that “Dare mighty things” was a phrase used by President Theodore Roosevelt. The motto has since been adopted by the Perseverance mission team based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.
You’ll also notice some numbers on the parachute. These are GPS coordinates, which, if you look them up, take you to a spot close to the entrance of JPL’s visitor center.
There was actually a good reason to use a pattern as it helped the team to see how the parachute positioned itself during descent, thereby providing important data for future Mars missions. But instead of having markings devoid of meaning, the team thought it would be a great chance to have a bit of fun by creating a hidden message for codebreakers to decipher.
Chen said he believes that Perseverance itself may be carrying a few hidden treats for those who enjoy searching for so-called Easter eggs, but insisted that even he doesn’t know what they are. So, keep your eyes peeled …
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