Mars rover sends home movie of daredevil descent to landing on red planet
NASA scientists on Monday unveiled first-of-a-kind home movies of last week’s’ daredevil Mars rover landing, vividly showing its supersonic parachute inflation over the red planet and a rocket-powered hovercraft lowering the science lab on wheels to the surface.
The footage was recorded on Thursday by a series of cameras mounted at different angles of the multi-stage spacecraft as it carried the rover, named Perseverance, through the thin Martian atmosphere to a gentle touchdown inside a vast basin called Jezero Crater.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, called seeing the footage “the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.”
The video montage was played for reporters tuning in to a news briefing webcast from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles.
NASA also presented a brief audio clip captured by microphones on the rover after its arrival that included the murmur of a light wind gust — the first ever recorded on the fourth planet from the sun.
But it was the three-minute film footage from the spacecraft’s perilous, self-guided ride through Martian skies to touchdown that JPL’s team found particularly striking.
“These videos, and these images are the stuff of our dreams,” Al Chen, head of the descent and landing team, told reporters. JPL Director Mike Watkins said engineers spent much of the weekend “binge-watching” the footage.
The video, filmed in color at 75 frames a second, shows action in fluid, vivid motion from several angles, the first such imagery ever recorded of a spacecraft landing on another planet, Wallace said.
One of the most dramatic moments is of the red-and-white parachute being shot from a canon-like launch device into the sky above the rover as the spacecraft is hurtling toward the ground at nearly two times the speed of sound. The chute springs upward, unfurls and fully inflates in less than two seconds, with no evidence of tangling within its 3.2km of tether lines, Chen said.
A downward-pointing camera shows the heat shield falling away and a sweeping vista of the butterscotch-colored Martian terrain, appearing to shift back and forth as the spacecraft sways under the parachute.
Seconds later, an upward-pointed camera captures the rocket-powered “sky-crane” vehicle, newly jettisoned from the parachute, its thrusters firing but the propellant plumes invisible to the human eye while lowering the rover to a safe landing spot on a harness of tethers.
A separate camera shows the lowering of the six-wheeled rover from the vantage point of the sky crane, looking downward as Perseverance dangles from its cable harness just over the surface with streams of dust billowing around it at touchdown. The sky crane is then seen flying up and away from the landing site after the harness cables are cut.