After a long weekend with no updates or images of the, NASA released a spectacular abundance of videos on Monday, including never-before-seen images that capture the to the surface of the red planet.
While earlier landers captured still images during the descent that were then stitched together to form a kind of still action movie, Perseverance was equipped with ready-to-use “hardened” video cameras to capture high-resolution images of the ship’s fall. rover to land on the floor of.
Over the weekend, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where Perseverance was built, downloaded 30 gigabytes of data from the rover, including 23,000 images and video frames. That allowed them to give the public an aerial view of a landing on Mars.
“This is the first time that we have been able to capture an event such as a spacecraft landing on Mars,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins. “We will learn something by observing the performance of the vehicle in these videos. But a lot of this is also to take on our journey, our landing on Mars and of course our mission on the surface as well. These are really amazing videos.”
A camera mounted on the back of Perseverance’s flying saucer-like aeroshell captured crystal clear views of the spacecraft’s 70.5-foot-wide parachute unfolding in the supersonic contrail, inflating in half a second to act as a 60,000-pound brake, decelerating. the ship. from just under 1,000 mph to a quieter 200 mph.
Equally spectacular views looking down showed the terrain approaching below as the 1-ton rover bobbed gently under the parachute. The rover then fell free and its rocket-propelled backpack ignited, guiding the craft to a hazard-free landing site that it previously selected.
As the backpack lowered the Perseverance to the surface, the exhaust columns from the lander’s eight engines kicked up swirls of dust that briefly obscured the lander. Then, with the wheels on the ground, the support cables were cut and a camera in Perseverance showed the backpack lifting up and disappearing from view.
Along with the unprecedented video, NASA also released more surface photos showing the rover’s landing site at Jezero Crater, which once had a 45-kilometer-wide lake fed by a river that deposited sediment in a wide range. delta. The Perseverance cameras can clearly see the cliffs that mark the edge of that delta about 1.2 miles to the northwest.
Project deputy director Matt Wallace said the idea of placing video cameras on board to document the rover’s entry, descent and landing came after he bought his daughter a small sports camera that she wore on a harness while he practiced gymnastics.
“She did a backflip, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t do a backflip,” he said. “But when he showed me the video … I had an idea of what it would be like if I could do a backflip. And that was the moment that inspired a phone call to my friend (Perseverance camera engineer) Dave Grohl, and that’s which led to this system. “
Along with 25 cameras, the rover also carries two microphones. One did not work during the descent, but the other captured the sounds of the Martian wind passing by. NASA released an audio clip captured by the rover’s microphone, the first sound ever recorded on another planet.
Launched last July, Perseverance reached Mars on Thursday, February 18, plunging into the atmosphere for a seven-minute descent.
The river and lake that it fed about 3.5 billion years ago are long gone, but scientists say remnants of past microbial life, if such life existed, may be preserved in deposits on the lake bed. Perseverance is the first lander sent to Mars specifically to search for such “biosignatures” and store soil and rock samples for eventual return to Earth.
The perseverance descent, like that of the Curiosity rover above, is known as a “seven minute terror” due to the extreme entry environment and the myriad of events that must happen on time and without Earth intervention to complete a successful landing.
Despite promises before landing that “raw” images from rover avoidance cameras and others would be released when they arrived, fewer than half a dozen had been posted Friday night and none appeared over the weekend. week.
That raised concerns among space enthusiasts, but Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief science officer, tweeted Sunday that the focus was on downloading onboard videos and data on the health of the rover’s systems.
“Since the @NASAPersevere landing, we have prioritized two types of data: the first-of-its-kind images of the rover’s entry, descent and landing. And health and safety data for the rover and its subsystems,” he tweeted. .
He later added: “I am very proud of this @NASAPersevere team for working so hard and diligently and for being able to deliver things to us ahead of schedule because they know the intense public interest.”