CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – The massive parachute used by NASA’s Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message, thanks to a puzzle lover on the spacecraft team.
Systems engineer Ian Clark used binary code to spell “Dare Mighty Things” on the orange and white strips of the 70-foot (21-meter) parachute. It also included the GPS coordinates for the mission headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Clark, a crossword puzzle aficionado, came up with the idea two years ago. The engineers wanted an unusual pattern on the nylon fabric to tell how the parachute was oriented during descent. Turning it into a secret message was “super fun,” he said Tuesday.
Only about six people knew about the coded message before Thursday’s landing, according to Clark. They waited until the parachute footage came back before releasing a teaser during a televised press conference on Monday.
It took space fans only a few hours to notice, Clark said. Next time, he noted, “I will have to be a little more creative.”
“Dare Mighty Things,” a line from President Theodore Roosevelt, is a mantra at JPL and adorns many of the downtown walls. The trick was to “try to find a way to code it, but without making it too obvious,” Clark said.
Looking at the GPS coordinates, the location is 10 feet (3 meters) from the entrance to the JPL Visitor Center.
Another added touch not very well known until landing: Perseverance wears a plaque representing NASA’s five Mars rovers in increasing size over the years, similar to the familiar car decals seen on Earth.
Assistant Project Manager Matt Wallace promises more hidden Easter eggs. They should be visible once Perseverance’s 7-foot (2-meter) 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.
“You should definitely, definitely watch out,” he urged.
The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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