On Monday, NASA released amazing footage captured during the final descent of the Perseverance rover, which safely touched down on Mars last week.
Video shot from multiple cameras placed on spacecraft components revealed its high-stakes arrival at Jezero Crater, an especially hazardous landing site. The hair-raising risks of the maneuver, which involved a sudden slowdown in the atmosphere, the deployment of a supersonic parachute, and the lowering of the rover onto the surface, are collectively referred to as the “seven minutes of terror” due to the significant possibility of a crash on the alien world.
In a press conference live-streamed on NASA TV, Perseverance mission leads explained what's in the video. The footage shows the deployment of the parachute from the perspective of the spacecraft’s backshell, followed by an aerial shot of the Martian surface from an altitude of about 12 kilometers. As Perseverance continued its descent, it jettisoned its heat shield, which is captured flying away from the spacecraft in the video.
The footage records the rover’s quick thinking as it selected its landing site, and within about a minute, the descent stage carrying Perseverance is only about 20 feet away from its target. Suddenly, the dust on the Martian surface is disrupted by the firing of the descent stage’s retrorockets as it lowered the rover to the ground in the infamous “sky crane” maneuver. Video was captured from both the top of Perseverance and the bottom of the descent stage, showing two views of this final, risky stage of the landing.
A microphone onboard the spacecraft has also recorded the first audio captured from Mars, as well as the first panorama of Perseverance’s view of Jezero Crater. The rover’s raw images from the Martian surface are available at this link.
Word of Perseverance’s successful touchdown reached Earth at 3:55pm ET on Thursday. Some 20 million viewers tuned into NASA’s livestream of the landing, which culminated in relieved and ecstatic applause from the mission control team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Jezero Crater is filled with rocky cliffs and variable terrain, so the rover had to be extremely careful about selecting a safe site for its landing attempt. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was able to snap a space-down shot of the rover as it parachuted down to the surface, while the mission’s descent vehicle took a picture of Perseverance as it was lowered to the ground.
NASA is expected to release more images of Perseverance’s surroundings on Mars, along with audio from the red planet.