NASA’s Perseverance rover hasn’t started roaming the red planet just yet, but its cameras have been busy at work.
A suite of ruggedized, off-the-shelf sports cameras captured unprecedented footage of the rover descending to Mars and landing in Jezero Crater on Thursday. Then the rover’s science and navigation cameras began snapping away as soon as it was on the ground. The results are breathtaking.
So far, NASA has published more than 4,700 images from the rover, with many more to come.
“It’s been a firehose of data,” Justin Maki, a Perseverance imaging scientist and the chief of the instrument-operations team, said in a press conference on Monday.
The new photos reveal the sand dunes, rocks, and distant 200-foot-tall cliffs of the ancient lake bed where Perseverance now sits. It’s the most hazardous terrain any Mars landing has ever targeted, but it’s already paying off in unprecedented portraits of the red planet.
“I review images for Mars, like, every day. That’s what I do. And when I saw these images come down, I have to say, I was truly amazed,” Maki said. “I know it’s been a tough year for everybody, and we’re hoping that maybe these images will help brighten people’s day.”
After landing on Thursday, NASA’s Perseverance rover immediately started beaming back thousands of photos of the red planet.
These include the first-ever images of a rover landing on Mars. Five cameras captured more than 23,000 images during Perseverance’s descent.
All these images had to be color corrected. Here’s what they looked like before that.
During the landing, the capsule dropped the rover, and then a jetpack attached to Perseverance’s back fired its engines and flew to the landing site. There, it lowered the rover on 25-foot nylon cables.
As it approached, the jetpack’s engines kicked up swirling clouds of dust on the Martian surface.
Then the jetpack released the rover and flew away to crash-land at a safe distance.
Before the dust settled, the rover was already beaming back its first photos from the Martian surface.
The first images revealed some very holey rocks that got NASA scientists excited. The rocks could be volcanic, or water could have tunneled through them.
Over the weekend, NASA engineers instructed Perseverance to deploy its mast. That gave a much better view of both the landscape and the rover.
The rover’s Mastcam-Z camera, named for its powerful zoom lens, used a color wheel built into the rover to calibrate itself.
“We’re going to get incredibly high-resolution photos from this imaging system,” Maki said.
High on its mast, Perseverance’s Navcam camera can see everything. It will help the rover drive.
To the west of the rover, the Navcam can see the cliffs of the river delta on the horizon. That’s where the rover is headed.
The Perseverance team on Earth stitched six of those images together to create a 360-degree panorama.
NASA turned that panorama into a video that you can drag left and right to see the view from Perseverance’s perspective.
For the first time in history, we have an audio recording from the surface of another planet.
NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars Thursday, using a jetpack to maneuver to a safe spot in the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater. On Saturday, microphones attached to the rover captured an unprecedented audio recording.
NASA released two versions of the 60-second audio on Monday, one of which includes noise from the rover and the other, below, with the rover sounds filtered out.
Listen to the sounds of a Martian breeze, audible for a few seconds.
“Just imagine yourself sitting on the surface of Mars and listening to the surroundings,” Dave Gruel, NASA’s lead engineer for Perseverance’s camera and microphone systems, said during a Monday press conference. “Here 10 seconds in was an actual wind gust on the surface of Mars, picked up by the microphone and sent back to us here on Earth.”
The wind was gusting at 5 meters per second (11 mph), Gruel added.
The experience of listening to it, he said, was “overwhelming, if you will.”
The rover will collect more sounds on its 2-year mission
Perseverance launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July and traveled nearly 300 million miles to reach Mars.
Engineers equipped the rover with two microphones. The Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) Cam microphone was primarily meant to record sounds from the landing (and from Perseverance’s journey through space). Although in the end it did not capture any audio on Thursday, it survived the descent so could record future sounds on the Martian surface.
The other mic was designed to listen to sounds from the rover, specifically its SuperCam laser instrument, which zaps Mars rocks and soil. Putting a microphone on the SuperCam gives the rover and the scientists analyzing its data another “sense” with which to probe Martian rock. The laser should make a staccato pop when it vaporizes Martian rock.
According to Gruel, both microphones will continue collecting audio during the rest of Perseverance’s mission. The rover is poised to spend the next two years scouring the river delta of Jezero Crater for signs of ancient alien life, and should collect its first rock samples this summer if all goes according to plan.
“We’re counting on both of these instruments recording some absolutely amazing sounds from the surface of Mars,” Gruel said.
Perseverance is NASA’s fifth and most sophisticated Mars rover. The agency equipped two Martian spacecraft with microphones in the past, but one of those – the Mars Polar Lander – failed, and the other – the Phoenix lander – never turned on its microphone.
NASA’s InSight lander, which touched down on Mars in 2018, enabled scientists to listen to the Martian wind in a different way. The lander was equipped with a seismometer to study Mars quakes, but the tool also sensed the vibrations that wind caused as it gusted across InSight’s solar panels. The low-pitch sounds of these vibrations were audible to the human ear.
“We know the public is fascinated with Mars exploration, so we added the EDL Cam microphone to the vehicle because we hoped it could enhance the experience, especially for visually-impaired space fans, and engage and inspire people around the world,” Gruel said a NASA press release.
Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting to this story.
NASA just released unprecedented video from its Perseverance rover.
The footage was recorded on Thursday as the robot plummeted to Mars, deployed a parachute, and navigated to a safe landing spot using a jetpack.
Landing on Mars is a high-stakes, high-speed feat with only a 50% historical success rate. Perseverance managed to not only stick the landing, but also recorded the entire plunge with five ruggedized commercial cameras. (There were six, but one failed.)
All in all, the cameras captured over 23,000 images of the vehicle descending to Mars. NASA released the resulting footage on Monday. The three-minute video below is the first of its kind. No previous spacecraft has ever captured itself descending to Mars.
“These videos and these images are the stuff of our dreams. It’s what we’ve been dreaming about for years,” Al Chen, who led the rover’s entry, descent, and landing process, said in a NASA briefing on Monday.
Engineers also equipped the rover with a microphone to record the landing, but it did not capture any audio.
What you’re seeing in that video
Five cameras together recorded the rover’s descent, starting as the capsule carrying Perseverance deployed a 70-foot-wide parachute as it fell toward Mars at about 12,000 mph. Three cameras were trained on the parachute to capture it ballooning above, though one of those didn’t work. The parachute slowed the capsule’s fall to about 150 mph – faster than a falling skydiver on Earth (sans parachute).
Then the capsule jettisoned its heat shield, exposing the rover’s belly and a camera that surveyed the ground below. That camera revealed the landing site in Mars’ Jezero Crater growing larger and larger as the rover neared the ground.
About 3.5 billion years ago, rivers flowed into this ancient impact basin, feeding a lake that may have sustained microscopic alien life. Perseverance aims to explore the dried-up lake bed in search of fossils of ancient microbes. The cliffs of the river delta appear on the right side of the video.
About a mile above the Martian surface, the capsule dropped the rover with a jetpack strapped to its back. In the video, this maneuver produces a bright flash of light about 2 minutes and 5 seconds in.
The jetpack then fired its engines and steered Perseverance toward a safe, flat landing spot. The ground-facing camera shows Martian dust swirling as the jetpack approaches.
A camera on the jetpack looked down at the rover, and another camera on the rover looked up at the jetpack. That camera watched the jetpack as it lowered the rover on 25-foot nylon cords until it touched the ground. Then the jetpack cut the rover loose and flew away to crash-land itself at a safe distance.
This whole entry, descent, and landing process took just seven minutes – the “seven minutes of terror,” as some engineers call it.
“I can watch those videos for hours and keep seeing new stuff every time,” Chen said.
Prior to Perseverance, the closest NASA ever came to capturing video of a Mars landing was a stop-motion movie that Curiosity captured of the ground below as it descended to Mars. In that footage, the only part of the landing process one can actually see is the heat shield falling away.
Perseverance is almost ready to film the first Mars helicopter flight
Perseverance is NASA’s fifth and most sophisticated Mars rover. It launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in July and traveled nearly 300 million miles to reach the red planet.
The rover is poised to spend the next two years scouring the river delta of Jezero Crater for signs of ancient alien life. The water that once flowed into the crater would have deposited mud and clay where it met the lake. If there was microbial life on ancient Mars, it could have been trapped and immortalized in those mineral deposits.
But Perseverance’s immediate first steps are to make sure all its systems and scientific instruments are working. Over the next few weeks, mission controllers will oversee those checks and upgrade the rover’s software to prepare it for its new life on Mars.
When that’s done, the rover is set to drive to an open field, release a small helicopter called Ingenuity from its belly, and record video as the drone attempts the first rotocraft flights on Mars. Two cameras on the bottom of Ingenuity will record video, too.
Ingenuity is scheduled for up to five test flights over 30 Martian days (31 Earth days). It’s just a technology demonstration, but if all goes well, the flights could show we have a a new way to explore other planets.
Once Ingenuity has flown, Perseverance can set off on its two-year mission to explore Jezero Crater. NASA hopes the rover will collect its first rock sample this summer.
NASA is about to share unprecedented video footage of its new Perseverance rover landing on Mars.
The rover, which touched down in the planet’s Jezero Crater on Thursday, has spent the weekend beaming photos and video back to Earth. Now, NASA is ready to reveal the first video footage in a press conference on Monday.
The new video, titled “How to Land on Mars,” was captured as Perseverance touched down, according to a NASA statement teasing the footage release.
That means, for the first time in history, you’ll be able to watch a rover landing on Mars.
The closest NASA has ever gotten to such footage is a stop-motion movie that Curiosity captured during its descent to the red planet. The footage doesn’t show the rover, or its parachute and jetpack.
Perseverance tried to revolutionize Martian cinema with its descent and landing. It’s possible that six cameras and a microphone captured the entire process: a capsule carrying the rover plummeting to Mars at 12,000 mph, a parachute to slow it, and a jetpack flying the rover to a safe landing.
“I just want to repeat: you WANT to take time and attend this press conference! Trust me – you will not regret it!” NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen wrote on Twitter.
A livestream of the press conference, embedded below, begins at 2 p.m. ET.
Beyond sending Earthlings incredible video footage, Perseverance has an ambitious mission ahead of it. The rover is set to explore Jezero Crater for signs of microbial life that scientists think may have thrived there 3.5 billion years ago, when the crater was filled with water. Back then, a river flowing into Lake Jezero would have dumped mud and clay that could have trapped communities of microbial life (like algae), imprinting them as layer in the rock.
Over the next two years, Perseverance aims to gather about 40 samples of rock and soil across the lake bed and the river delta. NASA plans to send another mission in the 2030s to grab those samples and bring them back to Earth. Aside from providing unprecedented documentation of Mars geology, these samples could offer the first evidence of microbial alien life.
But first, the rover has a few weeks of hardware checkouts and software upgrades. Then it has another video-recording detour before it begins exploring.
In the spring, Perseverance is set to release a small helicopter called Ingenuity from a compartment in its belly. The rover will capture footage as the drone attempts to fly over a Martian field.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said they’d heard back from the tiny Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, paving the way for its first-of-a-kind flight on the Red Planet.
The helicopter’s first status report arrived as expected, said Tim Canham, operations lead for the project, in a statement on Friday. It said Ingenuity’s batteries were charging as expected and its base station was operating as designed.
“Both appear to be working great. With this positive report, we will move forward with tomorrow’s charge of the helicopter’s batteries,” Canham said.
The helicopter, which landed on Mars aboard the Perseverance rover on Thursday, weighs about four pounds, with a fuselage roughly the size of a tissue box, according to NASA.
When Ingenuity takes off on Mars in the coming days or weeks, it will be an event akin to the Wright brothers’ Flyer taking off on Earth, NASA said in press materials about the helicopter.
“If successful, these technologies could enable other advanced robotic flying vehicles that might be part of future robotic and human missions to Mars,” NASA said.
Ingenuity will have to make it through a few steps before its flight.
First, its batteries will be charged, NASA said. The rover will supply enough charge to get them to about 35% of their total. Once the helicopter is dropped on the Martian surface, it will rely on its own solar panel for power, the agency added.
Then, the helicopter will need to “survive” the planet’s harsh atmosphere.
“If Ingenuity survives its first bone-chilling Martian nights – where temperatures dip as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius) – the team will proceed with the first flight of an aircraft on another world,” NASA said in a statement on Friday.
Ingenuity’s first flight, if successful, will achieve about 90% of NASA’s goals for the helicopter.
The craft doesn’t yet have a scheduled take-off day, but will have an approximately 30-Martian-day window, according to NASA. That’s about 31 Earth days.
“Just about every milestone from here through the end of our flight demonstration program will be a first, and each has to succeed for us to go on to the next,” said MiMi Aung, project manager.
Aung added: “We’ll enjoy this good news for the moment, but then we have to get back to work.”
NASA’s new Mars rover, a nuclear-powered robot called Perseverance, has successfully landed in the red planet’s Jezero Crater.
The rover’s touchdown is the first step in what could be a decade-long effort to bring the first samples of Martian rock – possibly including alien fossils – back to Earth.
The rover, lovingly nicknamed “Percy” by its engineers, launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in July and traveled 300 million miles to the red planet.
On Thursday, the capsule carrying Perseverance screamed through the Martian atmosphere at about 12,000 mph, released a 70-foot-wide parachute to slow its fall, then dropped its heat shield. That gave the rover’s cameras and radar system a view of the landscape below, which an onboard navigation system used to find a safe landing spot.
About a mile above the Martian surface, the capsule dropped the rover. A jetpack attached to the robot fired up its engines and steered Perseverance’s to its landing location, avoiding hazardous boulder fields, sand dunes, and 200-foot cliffs. Then the jetpack gently lowered the rover on 25-foot nylon cords until its wheels touched the ground.
At about 3:55 p.m. ET, NASA mission managers received the signal that the rover had touched down, and mission control burst into applause.
Perseverance is decked out with cameras and a microphone that should have recorded its entire descent – a first for a Mars landing. Initial images and thumbnail videos could reach Earth as early as this weekend. NASA engineers expect to have full video footage of the landing after a few weeks. (It takes a long time for the rover to beam all that data across space.)
A hunt for ancient alien microbes
This is NASA’s fifth Mars-rover landing, but it’s the first interplanetary mission to search for imprints of past alien life.
Perseverance is poised to spend the next two years exploring the ancient river delta that fed Mars’ Lake Jezero about 3.5 billion years ago. Back then, alien microbes may have swum in the water that filled the crater and various rivers and lakes across the Martian surface.
As the river dumped mud and minerals at the mouth of Lake Jezero, it may have trapped colonies of microbes, forming fossil rocks called stromatolites. That’s what Perseverance will look for along Jezero’s ancient lake bed, shorelines, and river delta.
But first, the rover will spend the next few weeks checking all its systems and instruments. After that, it’s set to release the first-ever interplanetary helicopter for some test flights. Once the space drone has flown, Perseverance can begin hunting for signs of long-gone alien microbes.
The rover carries 43 sample tubes so that it can stash samples of rock and soil. NASA plans to send another mission to retrieve those vials and bring them back to Earth in the 2030s.
“Samples from Mars have potential to profoundly change our understanding of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said in a news briefing ahead of the landing. “Even now, NASA continues to study moon samples returned by the Apollo program more than 50 years ago. We expect samples of Mars to provide new knowledge for decades to come.”
Probing the history of a desert planet
Jezero Crater is the most dangerous landing site that any Mars mission has ever targeted, but the payoff could be great. Various mineral deposits across the crater’s bed, the river delta, the ancient shorelines, and the crater rim hold a wide variety of types of rocks and soil. By collecting samples, Perseverance could help scientists learn about all kinds of environments on the red planet.
The rover carries seven science instruments that can analyze Martian rocks. It can capture images of rocks and soil in UV and visible light, probe them with radar, scan with X-rays to determine their composition, and search for organic compounds with a laser.
NASA’s Perseverance team expects the rover to gather its first samples sometime in the summer.
The robot can also move around three times faster than its predecessors, so it could cover up to 10 miles in its first Mars year (two Earth years). After that, it’s likely to get an extended mission that could take it up the crater’s 1,600-foot-tall rim. There, it would analyze the deep layers of rock cut in the Martian crust, which were exposed by a space object that struck the planet and created this crater billions of years ago. That investigation could provide insight into eons of Martian history.
Even if Perseverance finds no alien fossils, that will be important information. To date, every habitable environment on Earth that scientists have examined has hosted life.
“If we do a deep exploration of Jezero Crater with the rover and its instruments … and we find no evidence of life, we will have shown that in at least one place, there is a habitable environment that is not inhabited,” Ken Farley, the project scientist for Perseverance, said in a pre-landing briefing. “If that’s what we find, it would tell us something important: that habitability alone is not sufficient, that something else has to be present – some, perhaps, magic spark – that causes life to occur.”
Perseverance’s cargo could revolutionize space exploration
The small drone Perseverance carries is called Ingenuity. After its system checks, the rover should drive to an open field, unfold its belly panels, and lower the little helicopter for the first-ever controlled flights on another planet.
Perseverance will attempt to record video of Ingenuity’s flights. They could be the first demonstration of a new way to explore other planets.
The mission will also test technologies that could support future human expeditions to Mars. The rover’s sophisticated landing-navigation system was the first of its kind, and future Mars astronauts may rely on similar technology. Perseverance also carries a device that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. Called the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, it’s a prototype meant to test the technology on the red planet.
Oxygen is scarce in Mars’s atmosphere, and it’s unlikely that astronauts could bring enough of it to Mars to breathe there, let alone to fuel spaceships for the long journey home. So MOXIE aims to produce the crucial gas out of thin air.
The device electrochemically splits the molecules into oxygen and carbon monoxide, and combines the oxygen molecules into O2. It analyzes the product’s purity, aiming for about 99.6% O2. Then it releases both the breathable oxygen and the carbon monoxide back into Mars’ atmosphere. Future scaled-up devices would store the oxygen in tanks for astronauts and rockets to use.
Finally, Perseverance carries a small weather station to monitor dust, radiation, and weather changes on the planet – all things that future astronauts would need to keep an eye on.
NASA is about to accomplish an unprecedented feat: The agency’s Perseverance Mars rover is set to film its own high-stakes landing.
The vehicle has almost reached its destination. On February 18, after nearly seven months and 300 million miles of space travel, the robot is slated to to plummet through the thin Martian atmosphere, deploy a parachute and a jetpack, then gently land in an ancient lake bed.
Once set up there, it will search for mineral deposits from an old lake, which could contain signs of ancient microbial life. The rover is programmed to cache samples of Martian rock and soil so that a future mission can carry them back to Earth for scientists to study.
But first, the rover must land successfully.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that entry, descent, and landing is the most critical and most dangerous part of a mission,” Allen Chen, who leads that process for Perseverance at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press briefing. “Success is never assured and that’s especially true when we’re trying to land the biggest, heaviest, and most complicated rover we’ve ever built to the most dangerous site we’ve ever attempted to land at.”
A series of precise, automated maneuvers must go exactly right to safely deliver Perseverance to its destination. There’s no room for error.
That’s why aerospace engineers have a special nickname for this phase of a Mars mission: “seven minutes of terror.”
For Perseverance, this process will be all the more terrifying because of its landing site. Mars’ Jezero Crater is a dried-up lake bed rich with exposed layers of ancient rock, which could hold remnants of past microbial life. Steep cliffs run through the middle of the landing site, along with sand dunes and boulders.
“Jezero Crater is a great place, magnificent place for science,” Chen said. “But when I look at it from a landing perspective, I see danger.”
If Perseverance arrives safely, however, it will then beam back the first video footage of a landing on another planet. High-definition cameras and microphones on the rover should record the whole thing, and NASA has said it will make the footage available later.
“We’re really looking forward to bringing everyone for the ride,” Chen said.
A parachute and a jetpack will slow Perseverance’s plummet
A NASA animation shows what the Perseverance landing should look like if all goes well:
The illustration below breaks down each step of that process.
“We’ve got literally seven minutes to get from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars, going from 13,000 mph to zero in perfect sequence, perfect choreography, perfect timing,” Adam Steltzner, chief engineer of the Perseverance mission, said in a 2012 NASA-JPL video about the Curiosity rover (which is still going strong on Mars). “The computer has to do it all by itself with no help from the ground. If any one thing doesn’t work just right, it’s game over.”
The first step in Perseverance’s landing process is for the spacecraft that’s carried it 300 million miles to drop its cargo: a top-shaped capsule with the rover inside. This entry capsule will succumb to Mars’ gravity and plummet towards the planet, protecting Perseverance with a heat shield.
The capsule will plow through the Martian atmosphere at over 12,000 mph, and its shield should deflect material that’s been super-heated by that extreme speed. The outside of the heat shield will get as hot as 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit. This will cause it to streak across the Martian sky like a bright meteor.
Mars’ atmosphere is about 1% as thick as ours on Earth, but it should still slow the capsule down.
The capsule must use its thrusters to steer itself toward the landing target, since pockets of air with varying density can tilt it off-course.
Once it’s slowed to twice the speed of sound, Perseverance will deploy a 70-foot-wide parachute. Then the capsule will jettison its heat shield, clearing the way for the rover’s radar system to survey the land below. An autopilot-like navigation system should kick in to reconfigure the vehicle’s trajectory toward the landing site.
That system, called “terrain-relative navigation,” compares what the rover’s cameras see to an onboard map of the Martian surface, built from satellite imagery. It should recognize and avoid the cliffs, sand dunes, and boulder fields that litter Jezero Crater.
Perseverance’s supersonic parachute can only slow its descent to about 150 mph – as fast as a skydiver plummeting to Earth with no parachute. That’s why NASA engineers also equipped the rover with a jetpack.
About a mile above the Martian surface, the jetpack will ignite its engines, with the rover attached to its underside.
The jetpack will separate from the remaining parts of the entry capsule and fly Perseverance to a safe spot identified by the terrain-relative navigation. By the time the rover reaches its landing place, its speed should have slowed to about 1.5 mph.
Very slowly, the jetpack will unspool 25-foot-long nylon cords that will lower Perseverance until its wheels touch the ground.
A few minutes later, mission controllers should get the signal that the rover touched down.
After that, assuming everything has gone right, the rover will spend a few months checking and calibrating its scientific instruments. Then it will release a helicopter from its belly and turn its cameras to the drone as it lifts off for the first-ever controlled flight on another planet.
Then the rover will continue on its core mission: searching for ancient rocks that could hold hints of microbial alien life.