NASA has just released the first videos and images taken by the Perseverance rover as it landed—as well as the first sounds ever recorded from the surface of Mars.
What happened: On February 18, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed safely on Mars, the end of a journey that began last July. The spacecraft survived its “seven minutes of terror”—its entry through the Martian atmosphere and descent to the surface. On the way down, the rover’s cameras snapped images and recorded a wealth of video footage that has given us a historic view of the nail-biting moment it touched down.
The landing footage: On February 22, NASA released a three-and-a-half-minute video that stitched together footage of the rover’s landing recorded by five different cameras (three on the spacecraft’s back shell, one on the descent stage used to drop the rover on the ground, and two on the rover itself; one camera on the back shell failed).
The video begins after the spacecraft has withstood the 1,300 °C entrance into the Martian atmosphere. Sky-facing cameras on the back shell show the deployment of the 150-pound parachute in less than a second, which slowed the spacecraft down as it raced toward the surface. Then ground-facing cameras from the rover’s bottom show the heat shield separating and falling to the ground, from about 9.5 kilometers above the surface.
The red landscape is shown in exquisite detail, dotted hills and ledges as well as craters and small valleys, coming into closer focus as the rover continues to descend. When the rover gets close to the ground, the video shifts to sky-facing cameras from the rover and ground-facing cameras from the descent stage as the descent stage drops the rover down from its cords and slows the descent using its reverse thrusters. Finally, after the rover touches down on the surface, we see the descent vehicle detach and fly offscreen, to crash someplace nearby. Perseverance has landed.
Sounding off: Perseverance also made history by taking the first audio recording of sound on Mars. A snippet of noise was made available that includes the sound of 5-mile-per-hour winds blowing through the Martian landscape. (This is distinct from what was released from the InSight lander a couple of years ago, which measured vibrations coming from the Martian ground and converted those signals into audio.)
The rover is fitted with two microphones—one designed to take audio of the rover’s landing last week, and one fitted in the rover’s SuperCam instrument. The former microphone unfortunately failed to collect data properly. It does not seem to be a hardware issue, and NASA officials speculate there was a communication error between the system that converts sound from analog to digital and the onboard computer.
Both microphones are now working and are expected to continue collecting sound for a while. The landing microphone was not designed for sustained use on the Martian surface, and the planet’s temperature fluxes will probably cause it to degrade quickly. But the SuperCam microphone has been made for resilience and should last longer. NASA has said it may be possible to use the microphones to keep track of the health of the rover and its instruments.
What’s next: Perseverance will be transferring to new software optimized for its surface mission (to look for signs of ancient life on Mars), and NASA officials will spend a few weeks testing instruments and preparing for the deployment of the Ingenuity helicopter.
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