The first picture of NASA’s Perseverance rover landing on Mars shows the nuclear-powered robot suspended under its rocket jetpack just before touchdown. The spectacular view could be upstaged next week with the release of a first-of-its-kind high-definition video replay of the rover’s final descent.
The spacecraft carried six “ruggedized” commercial off-the-shelf cameras to capture video during descent toward Jezero Crater, home to an ancient lakebed that scientists hope harbors clues about the possibility that Mars had life billions of years ago.
Three of the cameras were located on top of the craft’s backshell to record video of the supersonic parachute, which helped slow down the rover after entering the Martian atmosphere. After releasing the backshell, the mission’s descent stage fired eight throttleable braking rockets before lowering the one-ton rover to the surface of Mars in a maneuver known as the “sky crane.”
There were two cameras on the rover itself, one looking down and another looking up at the rocket pack. And another camera on the descent stage captured imagery of the rover suspended under nylon cords during touchdown Thursday.
NASA released a still image from that camera Friday, offering a never-before-seen view of a spacecraft landing on another planet.
“When I think on our human space exploration, I am brought to remember the images that bring us humans into that process,” said Adam Steltzner, the Mars 2020 mission’s chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Steltzner, a veteran JPL engineer, compared the bird’s-eye view of the Perseverance rover to other iconic photos in space exploration, such as astronauts on the moon, the first up-close view of Saturn and its rings, and famous images from the Hubble Space Telescope.
“We can only hope in our efforts to engineer spacecraft and explore our solar system that we might be able to someday contribute yet another iconic image to this collection,” Steltzner said. “I’m happy to say that I’m hopeful we can with this.”
The picture shows Perseverance around 7 feet, or 2 meters, above the surface of Mars, Steltzner said.
“You can see the mechanical bridles that hold the rover underneath the descent stage, (the) three straight lines heading down to the top deck,” Steltzner said. “And then the curly electrical umbilical that is taking all of the electrical signals from the descent stage down to the computer inside the belly of the rover.”
The nylon bridles unspooled to a length of about 25 feet, or 7.6 meters, as the descent stage’s retrorockets slowed the vehicle to gently place the rover on the surface. Once the rover detected touchdown, pyrotechnically fired blades engaged to sever the connection with the descent stage, which flew a safe distance away before intentionally crashing into the planet.
Steltzner said the picture released Friday helps bring people on the adventure of space exploration.