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25 Feb 2021 23:29
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  •   Home > News > International

    Mars touchdown by Perseverance rover shown in thrilling video released by NASA

    In the ultimate selfie, NASA's Perseverance rover has recorded what it's like to land on another planet for the first time.

    NASA's Perseverance rover has recorded what it is like to land on another planet in stunning videos and images for the first time.

    The rover perfected a textbook touchdown on Mars on Friday (Australian time).

    As the rover descended, the final moments were captured by a series of high-definition video cameras on the backshell, skycrane and rover itself.

    The imagery and vision were released by NASA on Tuesday morning.

    "These videos and images are the stuff of our dreams," said Al Chen, who led the landing of the rover.

    Over the weekend the team downloaded more than 20,000 images of the rover as it descended towards the Red Planet in its seven minutes of terror.

    The videos first capture the moment the parachute deployed while the spacecraft was hurtling towards the surface at more than 1,500 km per hour.

    "You get a sense of how violent the parachute deploy is," Mr Chen said.

    Then the cameras capture the heat shield separating and provide a bird's eye view of the spacecraft descending towards and moving above the surface as the terrain navigation kicks in.

    Then cameras on the bottom of the sky crane show the rover dangling from three bridles as it settles in a swirl of dust.

    "It's amazing to see the sky crane in action," Mr Chen said.

    "We knew it worked once, we didn't know it was going to work again."

    Finally through the dust, a camera on the top of the rover shows the moment the sky crane detaches and moves away.

    NASA also released audio recorded from Perseverance from the surface of the Red Planet.

    Perseverance's landing was also captured from space by the HiRise camera onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

    NASA also released a photo of the spacecraft's parachute, heat shield and descent stages, which landed up to a kilometre away from the rover.

    'The surface of an alien world'

    Images taken from two cameras on the mast of the rover, which was unfurled over the weekend, are providing even more detail about the rover's home for the next two years.

    Justin Maki, NASA's imaging scientist, said the images were taken with the most advanced cameras ever used on a rover mission.

    "When I saw these come down, I was truly amazed," he said.

    The images, which have been stitched together in a panorama, show features such as mountains and the delta on the horizon in near-to-true colour.

    "These scenes look ... Earth-like in a sense," Mr Maki said.

    "It really is the surface of an alien world and we've just arrived."

    The images show different colours, textures and tones at the landing site, said Ken Williford, deputy project scientist on the mission.

    "As the resolution gets better, [we're noting] these light rocks closer to the foreground may be dark on the inside and the light tone we see may be largely due to dust covering.

    "One of the most exciting and interesting things is what we call the 'holey rocks' that are in some cases right under our wheels, and these smaller cobbles that are right around the rover."

    While it's too early to say what created these rocks, Dr Williford said their pitted surface could be 'vesicles' created by gas escaping volcanic rock, or they could have been carved by the wind.

    What happens next?

    Initial checks of the instruments performed over the weekend show everything is going well, said Jessica Samuels, Perseverance surface mission manager.

    "Everything has come back exactly how we've been wanting it to," she said.

    Now the communications antenna has been unpacked, the rover is connected to four spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet so we can expect even more high-resolution images in the future.

    "The high gain antenna ... increases our uplink rate," she said.

    The next step is to upload the software needed to perform the next phase, unpack some more instruments on the arm such as the drill, straighten out the wheels and take the rover for a short drive.

    The Ingenuity helicopter has also been checked out and the battery will be charged up over the next few weeks.

    The team hopes the off-the-shelf microphones and a more robust microphone on the mast will withstand the harsh Mars conditions long enough to do more instrument checks and capture the sound of the first operations.

    "I hope it does survive long enough so we can hear those wheels crunch over the surface of the planet," said Matt Wallace, the deputy project manager.

    "And I think it would be good to hear that big rotary percussive jackhammer drill taking that first sample of a rock on Mars."

    While the scientists expect to move the rover and fly the helicopter in the next few weeks, it will be a few more months before the hunt for ancient life begins.

    The mission is planned to continue until at least April 2023.

    Mad about Mars? Watch Catalyst's two-part special Mars: Our Second Home?on Tuesday, February 23 and Tuesday, March 2 at 8.30pm.

    In episode 1, astrophysicist Professor Tamara Davis and astronomer Greg Quicke meet the Australian scientists on a mission to solve the many challenges of putting people on the Red Planet.

    © 2021 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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