This is what it looks like to land on Mars.
NASA’s Perseverance rover took this video on February 18 as a jetpack lowered it onto the Red Planet’s surface.
“It gives me goosebumps every time I see it,” said engineer David Gruel of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at a news briefing on February 22.
The movie begins with the rover’s parachute opening above it as the rover and its landing gear enter the Martian atmosphere. Seconds later, a camera on the rover’s underside shows the heat shield falling toward the ground. If you look carefully, you can see one of the springs that pushed the heat shield off the rover came loose, said NASA engineer Allen Chen, the rover’s entry, descent and landing lead.
“There’s no danger to the spacecraft here, but it’s something we didn’t expect, and wouldn’t have seen” without the videos, he said.
The rover filmed the ground coming closer and closer, getting glimpses of a river delta, craters, ripples and fractured terrain. Cameras on the top and bottom of the rover captured clouds of dust billowing as the rover’s jetpack, the sky crane, lowered it down to the ground on three cables. A camera on the sky crane showed the rover swinging slightly as it descended. Finally, the sky crane disconnected the cables and flew away, leaving Perseverance to begin its mission.
“It’s hard to express how emotional it was and how exciting it was to everybody” to see the movie for the first time, said deputy project manager Matt Wallace. “Every time we got something, people were overjoyed, giddy. They were like kids in a candy store.”
The movie looks so much like animations of the sky crane landing technique that NASA had released in the past that it almost doesn’t look real, says imaging scientist Justin Maki. “I can attest to, it’s real,” he says. “It’s stunning and it’s real.”
The rover also captured audio from the surface of the Red Planet for the first time, including a gust of Martian wind.
Perseverance landed in an ancient lakebed called Jezero crater, about two kilometers from what looks like an ancient river delta feeding into the crater (SN: 2/18/21). The rover’s primary mission is to search for signs of past life and to cache rock samples for a future mission to return to Earth.
The first images Perseverance sent back from Mars showed its wheels on a flat expanse. The ground is strewn with rocks that are shot through with holes, said deputy project scientist Katie Stack Morgan in a news briefing on February 19.
“Depending on the origins of the rocks, these holes could mean different things,” she said. The science team thinks the holes could be from gases escaping volcanic rock as lava cooled, or from fluid moving through the rock and dissolving it away. “Both would be equally exciting for the team.”