Stunning high-definition video released Monday shows the high-drama descent of the rover Perseverance from several angles as it streaks toward the surface of Mars before a gentle touchdown.
NASA equipped the spacecraft with a record 25 cameras and two microphones, many of which were turned on during Thursday’s descent. The cameras were commercial, off-the-shelf products not specifically designed for use on Mars, mission managers said.
NASA previously released a photo of its newest rover being lowered onto the dusty red surface. The first high-resolution video released Monday begins just before the spacecraft deploys its parachute, one of several steps during the infamous seven minutes of terror that decide the success or failure of the mission.
The parachute is part of a system that slows the spacecraft from about 12,000 mph to human walking pace after its blast through the super-heated Martian atmosphere.
The heat shield that protected the spacecraft during that high-speed entry detached about 20 seconds after parachute deployment. The rover then used radar to determine how far it has to go to reach the surface and find a safe landing site.
Once the spacecraft shed its back half, including the parachute, a jetpack system used retrorockets to guide and slow the craft. The nearly 3 1/2-minute video shows the Martian surface gradually getting closer as the spacecraft slows before a sky crane maneuver in which the rover was lowered by tethers attached to the now-detached decent stage.
Perseverance touched down in an ancient river delta, where it will search for signs of ancient life and set aside the most promising rock samples for return to Earth in a decade. The successful touchdown came nearly seven months after the Southern California-built rover left Earth.
The vehicle is healthy, according to officials, after landing on a flat, safe surface in Jezero Crater with just 1 degree of tilt and relatively small rocks nearby. For now, the systems still are being checked. It will be at least a week before the rover starts driving.
It’s the ninth time that NASA has successfully landed on Mars — and the fifth rover.