After a long weekend without any updates or imagery from the, NASA released a spectacular bounty of video Monday, including never-before-seen footage capturing the to the surface of the red planet.
While previous landers captured still images during descent that later were stitched together to form a sort of stop-action movie, Perseverance was equipped with “ruggedized” off-the-shelf video cameras to shoot high-resolution imagery of the rover’s plunge to landing on the floor of.
Over the weekend, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where Perseverance was built, downlinked 30 gigabytes of data from the rover, including 23,000 images and video frames. That allowed them to give the public a bird’s eye view of a landing on Mars.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to actually capture an event like the landing of a spacecraft on Mars,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins. “We will learn something by looking at the performance of the vehicle in these videos. But a lot of it is also to bring you along on our journey, our touchdown to Mars, and of course, our surface mission as well. These are really amazing videos.”
One 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 unfurling in the supersonic slipstream, inflating in a half second to act as a 60,000-pound brake, slowing the craft from just under 1,000 mph to a more sedate 200 mph.
Equally spectacular views looking down showed the approaching ground below as the 1-ton rover swayed gently under the parachute. The rover then fell free and its rocket powered backpack fired up, guiding the craft to a hazard-free landing site it selected earlier.
As the backpack lowered Perseverance to the surface, exhaust plumes from the descent vehicle’s eight engines kicked up swirling clouds of dust that briefly obscured the lander. Then, with its wheels on the ground, the support cables were cut and a camera on Perseverance showed the backpack lifting away and flying out of sight.
Along with the unprecedented video, NASA also released more photos from the surface showing the rover’s landing site in Jezero Crater, which once held a 28-mile-wide lake fed by a river that deposited sediments in a broad delta. Cliffs marking the edge of that delta some 1.2 miles away to the northwest can be clearly seen by Perseverance’s cameras.
Deputy project manager Matt Wallace said the idea to put 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 in a harness while practicing gymnastics.
“She did a back flip, and I don’t know about you, but I cannot do a back flip,” he said. “But when she showed me the video … I had a glimpse into what it would be like if I could do a back flip. And that was the moment that inspired a phone call to my friend (Perseverance camera engineer) Dave Grohl, and that’s what led to this system.”
Along with 25 cameras, the rover also carries two microphones. One failed to work during descent, but the other captured the sounds of the Martian wind blowing past. NASA released a snippet of audio picked up by the rover’s microphone — the first sound ever recorded on another planet.