Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

NASA Releases Video Of Perseverance Rover Landing On Mars

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Want to know what it is like to land on Mars? Well, you can watch NASA's breathtaking video of the six-wheeled Perseverance rover make contact, just like NPR's Joe Palca did.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: The most important goal of entry, descent and landing, or EDL in NASA-speak, is landing safely. But at some point, as the mission was being put together, engineers thought, wouldn't it be nice to have cameras that could capture the events during EDL? So David Gruel of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was given a small budget and told, see what you can put together. He and his team bought off-the-shelf cameras and an off-the-shelf microphone and put together a camera system, ever mindful that what they were doing was not mission-critical but icing on the cake. Gruel says they had a mantra.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID GRUEL: We get what we get, and we don't get upset.

PALCA: Sure, they were hoping the six cameras they positioned around the rover and on the rocket-powered jetpack that lowered the rover to the surface would all work, but they tried to be realistic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GRUEL: And if we could even get just one image or one piece of information back during EDL - that we shouldn't get upset, and we should be excited.

PALCA: Well, excited doesn't begin to capture it. Talk about hitting a grand slam on your first and only at-bat. The videos are nothing short of amazing. You can see the giant parachute open. You can see the heat shield fall to the surface after it was jettisoned. You can see the red terrain of Mars coming closer and closer, the delta the rover is aiming for at the edge of Jezero Crater coming into view.

And then two cameras record the last seconds of the landing. One shows the rover being lowered down to the surface on a tether from the jetpack. And the other shows the same thing but from the rover looking up. After touchdown, the tether is cut, and you can see the jetpack fly away. Deputy project manager Matt Wallace described the video this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATT WALLACE: I don't know about you, but it is unlikely at this point in my career that I will pilot a spacecraft down to the surface of Mars. But when you see this imagery, I think you will feel like you are getting a glimpse into what it would be like to land successfully in Jezero Crater with Perseverance.

PALCA: The one disappointment, especially painful for those of us in the audio world - the microphone didn't work during landing, so the videos are silent. But it's working now and has already captured the rather silent sounds of Mars.

Joe Palca, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.