NASA leaves hidden message on Mars rover parachute


Hobbyist puzzle fans were delighted this week when NASA revealed that it had hidden a secret color-coded message in the parachute for the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars last week.

The message, written by systems engineer Ian Clark in binary code across alternating white and orange stripes on the 70-foot conduit, spelled NASA’s slogan “Dare Mighty Things,” which comes from a quote from Theodore Roosevelt.

Clark, the main developer of the parachute, had an interesting problem encoding the message: he couldn’t use any colors that hadn’t been tested in the atmosphere of Mars. Different colored dyes can weaken your integrity within your harsh environment.

“There are all kinds of doubts,” Clark said, according to The New York Times. “Being whiter than orange, or vice versa, could it mean that the parachute would heat up differently and maybe that would change its behavior?”

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Clark said that when he asked assistant project manager Matt Wallace if he could put a message on the parachute, his only guidance was “to make sure it was appropriate and could not be misinterpreted.”

Only about six people knew about the coded message before landing last Thursday, said Clark, a crossword enthusiast, who said creating the coded message is “super fun.”

He said it took only a few hours for puzzle solvers to discover the binary-encoded missive after it was mocked during Monday’s press conference.

“I’ll have to be a little more creative” next time, he said.

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Clark also included the GPS coordinates of the mission headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in the message: “34 ° 11’58” N 118 ° 10’31 “.

During the press conference, engineer Allen Chen, who was in charge of the landing system, told space fans, “Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose. So we invite you all. to give it a try and show its work. “

Toggling black and white, or orange and white in this case, is usually a clue that something is in binary code, giving enthusiasts their first clue.

Eventually, internet detectives realized that the series of ones and zeros fit into groups of 10 and spelled the inspirational message on the three inner rings of the parachute, according to The Times.

Within hours, computer science student Maxence Abela posted his response on Twitter.

“Looks like the internet cracked the code in about 6 hours!” Adam Steltzner, the mission’s chief engineer, tweeted, displaying a graph of the response.

A message was also written on a plate that will be used to calibrate a camera on the rover, according to The Times.

It says, “Are we alone? We came here to search for signs of life and collect samples from Mars to study on Earth. To those who follow us, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.”

The plate also includes renderings of NASA’s five Mars rovers in increasing size over the years.

And Wallace has promised more Easter eggs associated with the rover.

He said they should be visible once Perseverance’s seven-foot arm is deployed in a few days and begins photographing under the vehicle, and again when the rover is driving in a couple of weeks.

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“You definitely should definitely watch out,” he urged.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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