Today, NASA’s Perseverance rover team released some of the most stunning footage ever captured — the first video of a spacecraft landing on another planet.
Perseverance landed safely on Mars at 3:55 p.m. EST on Thursday, February 18, 2021, touching down in Jezero Carter just a mile (1.6 kilometers) away from its main scientific target — a massive deposit left by an ancient river delta.
Previous Mars rovers have only turned on their precious scientific cameras after they were safe on the surface. But Perseverance and its entry, descent, and landing (EDL) stage were kitted-out with six ruggedized, off-the-shelf cameras and a microphone to capture its daredevil descent maneuver.
“It gives me goosebumps every time I see it,” Dave Gruel, who led the development effort to install EDL cameras at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, said at an online press conference.
“These videos and images are the stuff of our dreams,” added Al Chen, Perseverance’s EDL lead.
Nailing the landing
The new footage of Perseverance’s “seven minutes of terror” includes video from a sky-facing camera mounted to the craft’s backshell, which shows the deployment of one of Perseverance’s three parachutes.
Meanwhile, a ground-facing camera mounted to the bottom of the rover itself shows the heat shield falling away. The pock-marked terrain of Jezero Crater — including its river delta to the northwest — floats into view as the rover, attached to its jetpack, bobs on its chutes.
The video next shows the backshell being jettisoned before the rover’s jetpack ignites at an altitude of about 0.6 miles (1 km), allowing its automated vision system to seek out a safe landing site. (Once the system identified its target, it nailed the landing to an accuracy of 16 feet [5 meters], said Chen.) As the craft nears the surface, the jetpack’s rockets are seen kicking up streams of dust.
Finally, Perseverance itself descends via skycrane into the dusty cloud. As Mission Control calls out “Tango Delta [touchdown] nominal,” the Skycrane releases the umbilical cord and flies out of frame to crash on the martian surface some safe distance away from Perseverance.
An alien breeze
Unfortunately, Perseverance’s microphone didn’t work as expected during descent due to a suspected glitch in the mic’s internal data processing. However, it resumed normal function after the landing, and NASA released a brief recording it captured — the first true audio recording from another planet.
The sounds include buzzing noises coming from the rover itself, as well as the familiar yet unearthly plosive rumble of a gust of wind. Analysis pegs the wind at roughly 10 knots (5 meters per second), said Gruel.
The team also released additional processed color images, including the first 360-degree shot from NASA’s latest martian rover.
Perseverance will next traverse the floor of the crater — which was once a lakebed — in search of signs that life once flourished there.
The Perseverance team is also uploading raw, unprocessed images from the rover on NASA’s site, and a dump of thousands of images should come over the coming days. “It’s been a firehose of raw data, basically,” said Justin Maki, Perseverance’s imaging scientist and instrument operations team chief.
And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the inevitable mashup with Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar docking music!