Get a guided tour of the first Mars rover landing captured on video from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Ian Clark.
Feast Your Eyes on the First-Ever Mars 2020 Mission Videos
Published: February 24, 2021
Ian Clark: With Perseverance, for the first time, we had a set of cameras on board filming critical aspects of the entry, descent and landing sequence on Mars.
Cameras that were staring up at the parachute being shot out the back of the vehicle. Don't blink, because in a fraction of a second, the parachute is out behind the vehicle and it inflates to something that is 70 feet in diameter, slowing the vehicle down from about 2000 miles an hour down to about 200 miles an hour. If we go frame by frame through it, you see how uniform that inflation is, how symmetric it is. The more symmetric it is, the more even the stresses are distributed around the parachute, and the more comfortable we feel the parachute can survive such a crazy, chaotic inflation, ultimately generating the tens of thousands of pounds of force that are going to be necessary to help slow this vehicle down. We've tried recreating that testing environment and showing that the parachutes will work, but you can't exactly replicate the Martian environment here on Earth. We've used parachutes like this on Mars nine times in a row and we've never had footage like this.
So the next one I'll show is from underneath the rover. And the first thing you see is the heat shield falling away from the rover. And that is the surface of Mars beneath us. We are about 6 or 7000 meters above the surface of Mars, coming down at 100 meters per second. Near the top of the frame is some of the river delta, the ancient river delta, the perfect place to try to go and search for signs of either ancient life or more recent existence of life on Mars.
At this time, our lander vision system is taking pictures of the surface of Mars that has now been revealed, and it's comparing those pictures to an onboard database of imagery that we've taken from spacecraft in orbit around Mars, trying to figure out where it wants to land. And now it's going straight down towards the surface. You can see the plumes from the engines interacting with the surface beneath us, kicking up all of this dust with those rocket plumes. And in a moment, it will stop. And the rover will be safe on the surface.
But wait, there's more. This is from a camera that is on the sky crane itself, on that rocket backpack that is helping lower the rover towards the surface of Mars. It's looking down at the top of the rover as it's lowered down to the surface of Mars. It falls away, lowered on those tethers, the wheels are deployed.
Last one I'll show, we're going to look at a camera that is on board the rover looking up into the sky crane. That's the sky crane. So the rover is being lowered beneath the sky crane. You've got the electrical umbilical cable there at the top, the three nylon tethers that are holding the rover there, the rocket engines on the periphery, all of the dust and debris from the Martian surface getting kicked up. The cables are cut and the sky crane flies way off into the distance. I've hit replay on this movie probably two hundred times in the past two days, and I still get giddy every time I see it. Just insanely awesome footage that you know, James Cameron, eat your heart out.
Footage that really underscores not just how challenging some of this is, but how well it worked. Affirmation that some of our guesswork was pretty dang good. Maybe we'll see things that we didn't expect and we can use those to refine and update our modeling, our assumptions, our algorithms to make the next generation of spacecraft even more capable. You undertake something like this knowing that it won't always work perfectly. You have to have some level of humility. No single person can do this. None of us are that smart, are that capable. And it really took just an enormous amount of talent and effort. There's certainly pride in the accomplishment, but the pride I feel is probably more for the hundreds or thousands of other engineers that all came together to make this happen.
Folks literally spent years of their life for that seven minutes to make sure that everything, the thousands of things that had to go correctly went precisely the way that they needed to. As engineers, this is what we live for. It's invigorating. And honestly, I'm also ready for the next one. We're just getting started.
Producer/Editor: Ari Daniel
Producer/Director: Terri Randall
Production Assistance: Jedd EhrmannCamera: Kevin Stevenson
Sound: Keith Sikora
Production Manager L.A.: Steven Reich
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2021