NASA released stunning new footage of the Perseverance rover’s touchdown on the surface of Mars on Monday, revealing the robot’s skyward view of the supersonic parachute that allowed it to slow down enough to safely land on the red planet.
In addition to the general awe of witnessing the final descent to an alien planet, the video contained a hidden message: keen-eyed space enthusiasts on social media noticed that the parachute displayed an unusual red-and-white pattern.
To the delight of the subreddit r/nasa, redditors and others online were able to decode the pattern as a deliberate message written in a parachute version of binary code.
The supersonic easter egg reads “dare mighty things”: the motto of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), home of the Perseverance mission team. The outer rim of the parachute is also encoded with the coordinates 34°11’58” N, 118°10’31” W, which spells out the location of JPL in Pasadena, California.
As Reddit user rdtwt1, who decoded the part of the parachute containing the motto, explained in a post, the phrase is embossed on the chute with red and white stripes as a stand-in for the binary characters 1 and 0 respectively. Each 10-stripe sequence adds up to a number value that can be converted to a letter in the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) table of designations. Another redditor, tend0g, decoded the portion containing the JPL headquarters coordinates.
The redditors weren’t alone. A Twitter user who also cracked the code posted an explanation adding that the large sections of 1s (all red) could be ignored. Another user added diagrams to chart out the numbers and their corresponding letters, showing that “dare” is written in the innermost circle, “mighty” in the middle circle, and “things” in the outer circle, with the coordinates lining the thin fringe at the very edge of the parachute.
The phrase is displayed in several places around JPL, and was also included in one the first post-touchdown notes that was shared with the public on the mission’s Twitter page, one day after the rover nailed its landing.
Given that NASA called Perseverance’s descent to Mars “the most dangerous landing yet” on the red planet, it’s fair to say that JPL lived up to its motto with this mission.