After a seven-month, 300-million-kilometer trip to the Red Planet, NASA’s Perseverance rover returned the first high-definition color images of Mars, including a selfie.
NASA released a photo of the rover on its descent on Friday as it suspended under the Celestial Crane moments before it landed on the Martian surface.
“It’s something we’ve never seen before. It was wonderful. The team was stunned. Just a feeling of victory that we were able to capture, ”said Aaron Stehura, one of the leaders of the entry, landing and descent team.
Two other images taken with a 20-megapixel camera show a wide view of the landscape and a close-up of the rover’s right front wheel with rocks nearby. These are the first color images of the surface of Mars.
“The two images the team went mad about,” said Pauline Hwang, deputy director of strategic mission. “The science team immediately started looking at all these rocks and zooming in and saying ‘what is this? “
One of the questions we will first ask ourselves is whether these rocks represent a volcanic or sedimentary origin. Both would be equally exciting for the team.
Perseverance’s main mission is to search for microbial signs of life and its landing point in Jezero Crater has been hand selected for this purpose. It is an ancient river delta marked by steep cliffs, sand dunes and large rocks.
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Surprisingly, Perseverance gently hit the ground in a safe, level spot with just 1 degree of tilt.
“The rear of the rover is actually looking towards the delta area and the front is actually facing down,” Hwang explained.
“Near the edge of the wheel is a boulder and one of the first things we noticed is that there are a lot of holes in it. There are a number of geological processes that can make holes. in a rock like that, “Associate Perseverance Project Scientist Katie Stack Morgan said,” One of the questions we will first ask ourselves is whether these rocks represent a volcanic or sedimentary origin. Both would be equally exciting for the team.
Despite a perfect landing, there is no downtime for the persevering rover.
The team puts Perseverance to the test by performing hardware checks to make sure all systems are working.
In 10 days or less, Perseverance could be ready for its first short drive to explore the neighborhood.
So what’s the next step for persistence?
The rover is equipped with 23 cameras and the team plans to do a full photoshoot on Mars on Saturday.
“We’re going to do a panorama of the rover and we are also going to do a full panorama of our landscape around us,” Hwang said.
They plan to receive these images by Monday.
Previous Mars missions have taken photos of descent, but no landings have ever been filmed.
Six cameras were rolling high-definition video footage of the spacecraft as it entered, landed, and descended, also known as “7 Minutes of Terror,” as removing it is a major challenge.
If they are successful, this will be the first video footage of a spacecraft landing on another planet.
NASA plans to record approximately 250,000 images at frame rates ranging from 12 to 75 frames per second, similar to those of cell phones.
The landing team is hoping they will also start seeing a video on Monday.
Perseverance is also equipped with two microphones to capture sound on the Red Planet for the first time. The team is hoping to get an indication this weekend that they’ve got the audio.
The next two months
Perseverance did not travel solo on Mars. A helicopter called Ingenuity hitchhiked, hidden under the rover’s belly. Ingenuity will attempt powered flight for the first time on another planet.
The team says the earliest possible to start the helicopter flights would be around two months.
They must first perform checks on the rover’s surface flight software. Once this is done, Perseverance must travel to the following location to find a safe place where Ingenuity can fly. They call it “the helipad location” and they might find it sooner than expected.
“Based on where we landed, we are already starting to look at this data. There could be a really good helipad location nearby, ”Hwang said.
Once the location is determined, Perseverance will gently release the helicopter from below and take off.
“This is a very critical event for the first time on Mars, so we put everyone on the bridge for this one and do several workouts,” Hwang said.
When Ingenuity takes off, the camera will roll over it as well.
After Ingenuity takes off, Perseverance will roam the Martian surface for the next two years collecting cores that will be returned to Earth around 2031.