NASA published images on Friday showing the spectacular descent of its Perseverance exploration vehicle to the surface of Mars, suspended by cables to slow it down, the first images of a maneuver of this type. The high-resolution photos show the last 20 meters of the descent, as its eight engines worked to slow the device.
“You can see the dust being kicked up by the vehicle’s engines,” said Adam Steltzner, Perseverance’s chief engineering officer, who estimated that the photo captures a moment when the craft came to six feet above the ground.
The three parallel cables in the image are mechanical brakes and a third curved end is a probe to transmit data from the camera to the device. When the vehicle touched the ground, the 6.4 meter long cables were cut, allowing it to descend independently.
Meanwhile, another published image, which was taken by the MRO probe, captured a moment of Perseverance’s descent just before landing. In the photograph you can see the protection of the capsule designed to enter the atmosphere and the supersonic parachute.
Perseverance also managed to submit its first high-resolution photographs, an image showing the interior of the Jezero crater, where a river and a lake stood billions of years ago, and another shot of one of its wheels on the rocky surface of Mars.
Origin of Mars rocks
“One of the questions we are going to ask ourselves first is whether these rocks are volcanic or have sediment originated,” explained NASA deputy director of science projects Katie Stack Morgan.
Volcanic rocks have the particularity of their age and can be dated with very high precision, once they are shown to be brought to Earth, on a mission in the future, which is promising from the point of view of planetary science. The first images that arrived were “very exciting, our team went crazy”, said the head of systems of the operation, Pauline Hwang.
It couldn’t have been better
“The science team immediately started looking at the rocks and zooming in to say, ‘what’s that?’ It couldn’t have been better,” she summarized. The first two images released Thursday shortly after the spacecraft landed on Mars were low resolution black and white photos.
In the coming days, NASA hopes to have more high-resolution images and videos, but it is not yet known whether it was successfully able to capture sounds from Mars using the microphones that Perseverance is equipped with. Steltzner estimated that this unknown may be known early next week.