Experience Perseverance landing on Mars in video, audio from rover
February 22, 2021
— You can now experience what it is like to plummet through the atmosphere, descend by parachute and rocket to a safe touchdown on Mars, thanks to a new video recorded by NASA's Perseverance rover.
Further, a microphone on board the six-wheeled spacecraft has provided a chance to hear of the wind as it sounds on the Red Planet's surface.
The three-minute-long video, which NASA paired with the mission control audio from Perseverance's entry, descent and landing (EDL) in Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, chronicles the major milestones that allowed the car-sized rover to survive the autonomously-executed interplanetary feat. The footage begins 7 miles (11 km) above the surface, shows the deployment of the most massive parachute ever sent to another world and ends with Perseverance being lowered by "sky crane."
"It is unlikely at this point in my career that I will pilot a spacecraft down to the surface of Mars," said Matt Wallace, Perseverance's deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. "But when you see this imagery, I think you will feel like you are getting a glimpse into what it would be like to land successfully in Jezero Crater with Perseverance."
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover landed at the site of an ancient water basin to search for and cache signs of life for future return to Earth. In addition to its primary astrobiology mission, the robotic explorer also carries technology demonstrations for future human missions, including the Ingenuity helicopter, the first aircraft to attempt powered flight on another planet.
A rover's eye view
The video, which was compiled from 23,000 images amounting to 30 gigabytes of data, opens with the spacecraft's parachute deploying and transforming from a compressed cylinder into a fully inflated 70.5-foot-wide (21.5-meter) canopy — the largest ever sent to Mars.
The footage reveals a distinct orange and white pattern on the parachute, which engineers used to determine its clocking (or orientation) and can be helpful in tracking different positions of the parachute and different portions of the parachute as it inflated. It is also the source of a secret for those watching the video, said Al Chen, Perseverance's EDL lead at JPL.
"In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts and our engineering can inspire others. Sometimes we leave messages that are work for others to find for that purpose. So we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work," he said in a press briefing debuting the video on Monday (Feb. 22).
The footage also captures Perseverance's heat shield dropping away after protecting the rover from scorching temperatures during its entry into the Martian atmosphere. The downward view from the rover sways gently like a pendulum as the descent stage, with Perseverance attached, hangs from the back shell and parachute.
The Martian landscape quickly pitches as the descent stage — the rover's free-flying "jetpack" — breaks free and engages its eight thrusters to put some distance between it and the now-discarded back shell and parachute. Then, 80 seconds and 7,000 feet (2,130 m) later, the cameras record the descent stage performing the "sky crane" maneuver over the landing site — the plume of its rocket engines kicking up dust and small rocks while Perseverance lowers on cables onto the exposed rock below.
"Our EDL cam team were guided by two requirements. The first one was that the entry, descent and landing camera system must do no harm to the flight vehicle, and that's especially important during EDL. This was our one critical requirement and, as you all saw last Thursday, that requirement was met," said Dave Gruel, Perseverance's EDL camera lead at JPL.
"The second item was not so much a requirement as it was a mantra: we get what we get and we don't get upset," he said.
But what they got was only cause for celebration. All but one of the cameras used to film the descent worked as planned.
"It gives me goosebumps every time I see it. It's just amazing," said Gruel. "I hope everybody kept their hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times while it was in motion."
Sound of success
The six cameras (three on the rover's backshell, one on the bottom of the descent stage and two mounted on Perseverance) were a commercial, off-the-shelf solution sourced from FLIR with only a few minor modifications for the mission.
"This was not a camera specifically designed for use on Mars," said Gruel. "You can purchase the same camera off of the internet for whatever applications you may might have for it."
In addition to providing the public with a front row seat to a landing on Mars, the EDL footage also helped reveal engineering details that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
"You can also see something we didn't expect to see," said Chen. "One of the springs that help push the heat shield off seems to have come loose. It's not much of a big deal, but it's definitely not what we expected."
"There was no danger to the spacecraft here, but it's something we didn't expect and think we wouldn't have seen it if we didn't have the camera system to show us what was going on," he said.
The team had hoped to use a microphone on board Perseverance to record the sounds of the rover's descent, but the audio was not recorded. After Perseverance landed, though, the microphone picked up the wisp of a Martian wind gust and the whirl from the rover operating on the surface.
"The video of Perseverance's descent and landing, the amazing panorama, the first landscape shot of Jezero Crater and the first Martian sounds are the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "That video, I believe, should become mandatory viewing for young people who not only want to explore other worlds and build spacecraft to take them there, but also want to be part of diverse teams achieving all the audacious goals of our future."
Still frame from a video captured by several cameras as NASA's Perseverance rover plummeted, descended and rocketed down to Jezero Crater on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
The first high-resolution color image to be sent back by the hazard cameras (hazcams) on the underside of NASA's Perseverance Mars rover after its landing on Feb. 18, 2021. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
First image of NASA's Perseverance Rover on the surface of Mars from the High Resolution Imaging Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the many parts of the Mars 2020 mission landing system that got the rover safely on the ground. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)
The navigation cameras, or navcams, on NASA's Perseverance Mars rover captured this view of the rover's deck on Feb. 20, 2021. This view provides a good look at PIXL (the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry), one of the instruments on the rover's stowed arm. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Mastcam-Z, a pair of zoomable cameras on board NASA's Perseverance rover, imaged its calibration target for the first time on Feb. 20, 2021. Visible are the Mastcam-Z primary-color and grayscale calibration target (the colorful circular object at right foreground) as well as the camera's secondary calibration target (the L-bracket just below the primary target). (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Video showing the first 360-degree view of the landing site of NASA's Perseverance rover inside Jezero Crater on Mars, as captured by the rover's color navigation cameras, or navcams. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)