The Washington Post

NASA re­leased the first high-speed video of a space­craft land­ing on Mars, chron­i­cling the dra­matic de­scent of the Per­se­ver­ance rover.

NASA video of rover’s plunge into at­mos­phere is the first of its kind

- BY CHRIS­TIAN DAVEN­PORT chris­tian.daven­port@wash­post.com Space Research · Space Technology · Space · Spacecraft · Space Travel · Interplanetary Space Flights · Solar System · Science · Space Flights · Milky Way Galaxy · NASA · The Martian · Red Planet · Matt Wallace · Curiosity · Hollywood · Neil Armstrong · P-3 Orion · Elon Musk · SpaceX · Youtube · United States of America · Arlington County · Virginia · Jet Propulsion Laboratory · Orbital Sciences Corporation · Monty Python · FLIR Systems · National Air and Space Museum

NASA on Mon­day re­leased stun­ning, high- def­i­ni­tion footage of its car- size rover land­ing on the Mar­tian sur­face last week, the first time that a space­craft’s land­ing on Mars has been recorded in high- speed video.

In the short clip, sev­eral cam­eras mounted at var­i­ous points on the space­craft chronicle the de­scent of the Per­se­ver­ance rover as it plunges through the Mar­tian at­mos­phere, de­ploys its parachute and jet­ti­sons its heat shield. The red, dusty Mar­tian at­mos­phere comes into view as the rover gets closer to the sur­face. In­di­vid­ual rocks can be seen, as well as en­tire craters, as the au­tonomous space­craft guides its way to a flat land­ing site.

Then, a whirl­wind of dust, as the de­scent stage fires its en­gines and low­ers the rover onto the sur­face with ca­bles.

NASA also re­leased a slip of sound recorded on the Red Planet, a small whoosh — a gust of wind trav­el­ing at five me­ters per sec­ond, or about 11 miles per hour, NASA es­ti­mated.

The sounds and the video “are the clos­est you can get to land­ing on Mars with­out putting on a pres­sure suit,” said Thomas Zur­buchen, head of NASA’S sci­ence mis­sion direc­torate.

Doc­u­ment­ing the land­ing, one of the most per­ilous parts of the mis­sion, known as the “seven min­utes of ter­ror,” was not cen­tral to the space­craft’s pri­mary goal of search­ing for signs of an­cient, mi­cro­bial life on Mars.

But it was a way to in­spire fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of ex­plor­ers, NASA said, as well as give engi­neers feed­back on how the space­craft op­er­ated.

“We have taken ev­ery­one along with us on our jour­neys across the so­lar sys­tem to the rings of Saturn, look­ing back at the pale blue dot and in­cred­i­ble panora­mas on the sur­face of Mars,” said Michael Watkins, direc­tor of NASA’S Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory. “This is the first time we’ve been able to ac­tu­ally cap­ture an event like the land­ing of a space­craft on Mars. And these are pretty cool videos. And we will learn some­thing, by look­ing at the per­for­mance of the ve­hi­cle in these videos, but a lot of it is also to bring you along on our jour­ney.”

Be­cause the at­mo­spheric con­di­tions are so dif­fer­ent on Mars, NASA’S engi­neers can’t test the land­ing sys­tems on Earth. “So this is the first time we’ve had a chance as engi­neers to ac­tu­ally see what we de­signed,” said Matt Wallace, the deputy project man­ager. “It’s hard for me to ex­press just how emo­tional and how ex­cit­ing it was for ev­ery­body.”

NASA had put to­gether com­pelling an­i­ma­tions of the land­ing that showed the space­craft hurtling through the Mar­tian at­mos­phere, then de­ploy­ing its parachute and fi­nally the sky­crane low­er­ing the rover to the sur­face. In 2012, it stitched to­gether 297 small images taken dur­ing the last 2 ½ min­utes of the Cu­rios­ity rover’s land­ing on Mars. Cu­rios­ity also has sent back photos it had taken of it­self on Mars’s bar­ren land­scape.

But those pale in com­par­i­son to what NASA re­leased Mon­day.

Video cov­er­age has long been part of space travel. But with to­day’s tech­nol­ogy, NASA and the grow­ing com­mer­cial space sec­tor are giv­ing space ex­plo­ration a Hol­ly­wood- like feel that is a gi­ant leap from the flick­er­ing grainy black- and- white footage of Neil Arm­strong’s first step on the moon five decades ago.

For its next hu­man lu­nar ex­plo­ration mis­sion, called Artemis, NASA is look­ing for a vast im­prove­ment: footage that will bring peo­ple along for the ride in­side the cap­sule as well as on the sur­face.

It has put out a so­lic­i­ta­tion to part­ners “who will use in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies, im­agery ap­pli­ca­tions and ap­proaches” so that the “pub­lic can ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent seg­ments” of the mis­sions, in­clud­ing “‘ rid­ing along’ with the crew in Orion on their jour­ney to the area around the Moon; vis­ual ex­plo­ration of the lu­nar sur­face; and on the re­turn to Earth.”

The space agency is look­ing to use ev­ery­thing from 360- de­gree cam­eras, vir­tual re­al­ity, 4K and ul­tra high- def­i­ni­tion cam­eras, “ro­botic ‘ third- per­son’ views” and other con­cepts that would de­liver “a uniquely- en­gag­ing space­flight ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Elon Musk’s Spacex has been es­pe­cially adept at us­ing com­pelling video to tell the story of its jour­ney — both the suc­cesses and fail­ures. Videos posted to its Youtube chan­nel have mil­lions of views, help­ing it build an enor­mous fan base, which reg­u­larly tunes in to launches in a way not seen since the early days of the Space Age.

Its videos have show­cased ma­jor mile­stones, such as NASA’S first hu­man space­flight from U. S. soil since the space shut­tle fleet was re­tired, the launch of Spacex’s Fal­con Heavy rocket, the land­ings of first- stage boost­ers, even how it catches the fair­ings, or nose cones, of its rock­ets on boats with gi­ant nets like a cen­ter fielder nab­bing a pop fly.

Its videos of the flights of its Star­ship pro­to­types are enor­mously pop­u­lar. They show­case not only the short test flights of the Star­ship space­craft that Musk says will ul­ti­mately take peo­ple to the moon and Mars, but its crash land­ings that end in fire­balls as the com­pany figures out how best to get them back to Earth safely.

It even put to­gether a com­pi­la­tion video from the early days of its Fal­con 9 rocket test land­ings, when they too of­ten ended up ex­plod­ing as they came crash­ing to the ground. That video, “How Not to Land an Or­bital Rocket Booster,” set to the marching band tune used in Monty Python’s “Fly­ing Cir­cus,” had 25 mil­lion views.

NASA and Spacex even won an Emmy in 2019 for their joint broad­cast of a test flight of Spacex’s Crew Dragon space­craft to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion.

The cam­eras are com­mer­cially avail­able and were pur­chased by NASA from FLIR Sys­tems, which has its corporate head­quar­ters in Ar­ling­ton, Va. “Our cam­eras are de­signed for op­er­a­tion on Earth, and not built to op­er­ate in outer space,” said Sadiq Pan­jwani, a vice pres­i­dent at the com­pany. They had never been sub­jected to the ex­treme tem­per­a­tures on Mars, or the high grav­ity forces the space­craft ex­pe­ri­ences or heat it is ex­posed to while land­ing.

“So we were quite thrilled that NASA put them to the test,” he said.

The video of the Per­se­ver­ance land­ing gave engi­neers valu­able feed­back that showed, for the most part, the sys­tems worked per­fectly. But the footage showed there was a prob­lem with one of the springs that helps jet­ti­son the heat shield.

“There’s no dan­ger to the space­craft here, but it’s some­thing we didn’t ex­pect and some­thing we wouldn’t have seen if we didn’t have this cam­era sys­tem to show us what was go­ing on,” said Al Chen, NASA’S lead en­gi­neer for the en­try, de­scent and land­ing sys­tems.

The footage will be stud­ied by sci­en­tists and engi­neers for years, NASA of­fi­cials said. The parachute de­ploy­ment will help sci­en­tists un­der­stand the at­mos­phere; the way the dust and gravel scat­tered dur­ing the land­ing could hold clues to the Mar­tian land­scape.

“To watch that video to­day was su­per emo­tional,” said Ellen Sto­fan, head of the Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum and a for­mer NASA chief sci­en­tist. “To be able to watch a space­craft land on an­other planet is stun­ning. It’s such an achieve­ment.”

“These are pretty cool videos. And we will learn some­thing, by look­ing at the per­for­mance of the ve­hi­cle in these videos, but a lot of it is also to bring you along on our jour­ney.” Michael Watkins, direc­tor of NASA’S Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory

 ?? NASA/JPL-CAL­TECH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? Images from a video from NASA show a parachute de­ploy­ing and a crane low­er­ing the Per­se­ver­ance rover as the red, dusty Mar­tian at­mos­phere comes into view as the rover nears the sur­face. NASA said the doc­u­men­ta­tion of the land­ing will give engi­neers feed­back on how the space­craft op­er­ated.
NASA/JPL-CAL­TECH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Images from a video from NASA show a parachute de­ploy­ing and a crane low­er­ing the Per­se­ver­ance rover as the red, dusty Mar­tian at­mos­phere comes into view as the rover nears the sur­face. NASA said the doc­u­men­ta­tion of the land­ing will give engi­neers feed­back on how the space­craft op­er­ated.

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