NASA has released video of the Perseverance Mars Rover as it descended through the Martian atmosphere and landed as planned in Jezero Crater last Thursday.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, David Gruel of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that the video team had kept its expectations modest: "We get what we get and we don't get upset."
What they got are among the most spectacular images in the history of space exploration.
Six small off-the-shelf cameras made up the EDL Cam system (Entry, Descent and Landing). They survived the journey and worked flawlessly, capturing the spacecraft's parachute deployment, heat shield separation, powered descent and gentle deposit of the Perseverance Rover on the Martian surface.
There are extraordinary details in the video. The spacecraft sways a bit under its parachute, then stabilizes as the descent module's thrusters take over and the parachute is cast away. A camera on the descent module shows the Rover as it's lowered by three cables. A camera on the Rover captures the same scene from below; once on the surface the cables are withdrawn and the descent module flies away.
There were also two microphones on the spacecraft. Gruel said they failed to capture audio of the landing, but once on the surface one of the microphones recorded – for the first time – sounds from Mars. The clip released by NASA contains a quiet hum from the Rover's operations, and a Martian wind gust sweeping across the lander. Another clip cancels out the sound of the Rover, leaving only the breeze.
Gruel said he was inspired to install the microphones by a young woman who was taking a tour at JPL years ago. She said her sister is visually impaired and unable to see NASA's photos. Gruel thought perhaps audio would allow her to experience the wonder of space exploration.
Project scientists also released more color images of the Rover on the surface, and a photo taken from Mars orbit which shows the aftermath of the landing.
Correction: February 23, 2021 12:00 am — When first published this story incorrectly stated that Perseverance was the first spacecraft to record audio on another planet. It is the first audio from Mars. The Soviet Union's Venera 13 and 14 missions transmitted audio from the surface of Venus in 1982.