The conquest of space is built with great leaps and small firsts. NASA made public on Monday two exceptional documents captured by its Perseverance rover on Mars. The first is a spectacular video of his landing recorded from all angles. The second is a gust of Martian winds recorded on the red planet by a microphone, a historic first.
The vehicle, whose mission is to find evidence of ancient life on Mars, landed last week, the first stage of a journey of at least two years during which it will take samples that will have to be brought back to be analyzed on Earth. by a subsequent mission.
Also to discover in video:
Also to discover in video:
Seven minutes of terror
Just over three minutes long, the video extract published by the American space agency reveals the images of several cameras located at different places on the module, after its entry into the Martian atmosphere. One shows the deployment of the supersonic parachute, another, located under the rover, the Martian ground approaching, and two views capture the rover gradually deposited on the ground, suspended by three cables from the descent stage.
“This is the first time that we have been able to capture an event such as a landing on Mars”, said at a press conference Michael Watkins, director of the legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory where the rover was built. “It’s really fantastic. ”
The rover was protected by a heat shield as it entered the atmosphere at a speed of 20,000 km / h, which marks the start of the “Seven minutes of terror” down to the ground. We can see this shield dropped on the surface of Mars on the video.
Eight retro-rockets then finished slowing the vehicle, and Martian dust is propelled in large quantities under their effect. Once the rover is stationary, we can also see the descent stage perform a final push in order to crash 700 meters further. “These images and videos are what we have dreamed of for years”, said Allen Chen, in charge of the landing phase for NASA.
In addition to being able to show the general public what such an ultra perilous maneuver looks like in real life, these images will allow NASA teams to better analyze what is happening at each stage for future landings.
First Martian sound
NASA also hoped to be able to capture the sound of the dizzying descent, but that didn’t work. An extraordinary audio, recorded once the rover landed on the surface of the red planet, was however unveiled. In the excerpt, we can hear a shrill sound produced by the rover, but also, clearly, the Martian wind.
“Yes, you have just heard a gust of winds on the surface of Mars, captured by the microphone and sent back to Earth”, said Dave Gruel, in charge of this equipment for NASA. It’s about “Of the first sounds recorded on the surface of Mars”, he added. The space agency also made hear the same sound but with the noise of the rover attenuated.
Perseverance took health home two microphones, one of which is located on the SuperCam science instrument, an ultra-sophisticated shoebox-sized camera. This one can be used in particular to analyze the noise produced when the laser of the SuperCam, designed by the French, hits the rock.
“We are hopeful that we can continue to use these microphones to capture sounds”, said Dave Gruel, although their life expectancy is limited due to the extreme temperatures on Mars. Previous missions had already attempted to send microphones to the Red Planet, without ever succeeding in fulfilling the objective.
NASA’s InSight robot, which arrived on Mars in November 2018, had recorded multiple seismic tremors, thanks to an ultra-sensitive seismometer, which the Terrans had been able to listen to. The frequency of the vibrations was too low for the human ear; the recordings had therefore been processed and accelerated to become audible thanks to a technique known as “sonification”.
A long journey and good health
“Perseverance is in good health”said Jessica Samuels, who heads operations on the Martian surface. “We have executed 5,000 orders,” she explained. “All of our instruments have passed their initial verification tests and we are happy to report that they are all performing as expected”. In the coming days, Perseverance will move for the first time, and then testing will continue.
The landing site, Jezero Crater, was the riskiest ever, due to its topography. But it is very interesting for scientists, because it contained, according to them, about 3.5 billion years ago, a deep lake into which a river flowed.