NASA on Friday released new images of its Perseverance spacecraft approaching the surface of Mars and safely settling upon the red planet.
The new photos included an arresting image of the Jeep-sized rover nearing Mars, seemingly dangling from the sky crane that was lowering it to the surface about 7 meters below. This image was pulled from footage of the rover’s landing, captured by on-board cameras. A complete video of the dramatic landing sequence may be released as early as Monday after NASA engineers receive more data from Mars.
“It is exhilarating. It is absolutely exhilarating,” said Adam Steltzner, the chief engineer for the Perseverance mission, which successfully landed on Mars on Thursday. These kinds of dramatic images, he said, help bring the world along for the ride on missions of exploration.
“These things are hard,” he said of building a large rover and delivering it to the surface of Mars. “It takes thousands of people years of effort. It represents a huge human lift to make this happen. With that image and the details therein, it really pulls us humans on Earth into the result of that work.”
Steltzner said a preliminary review of the seven-minute landing sequence found it appeared to go off flawlessly, but engineers will look more deeply into the data in the coming weeks. “Yesterday went as smoothly as we could have wanted it to go,” he said. “We will use a fine tooth comb and look for any anomalies that might teach us how to do our jobs better in the future. But we didn’t see any huge ones that stuck out to us yesterday.”
With the landing completed, the mission’s scientists and engineers will now turn their focus to checking the status of the rover—which so far seems to be completely healthy—and beginning to turn on its myriad science instruments. Perseverance landed about 2km from an ancient delta that scientists are interested in exploring for signs of ancient life, and the rover could begin driving there in about eight Martian days.
Already, scientists are finding things in the first images from Perseverance to get excited about. An engineering image taken to assess the vehicle’s wheels, for example, showed curious-looking rocks in the background. “The science team is already thinking a lot about this,” said Hallie Gengl, instrument data systems operation lead for the Multimission Image-Processing Laboratory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
As for the mission’s helicopter, Ingenuity, engineers want to gather more information about the local Martian weather before the vehicle takes its first flight. That won’t happen for at least 60 days on the surface of Mars.
We eagerly await all of that, and more.