NASA Perseverance rover: See the first mind-blowing video of Mars descent

NASA delivers on a promise that we'll "see Mars like never before" with unbelievable footage from the Perseverance landing.

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Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
3 min read

Perseverance landing on the surface of Mars.


NASA has unveiled incredible "first of its kind" footage from the entry, descent and landing of its latest, ambitious, next-gen rover, Perseverance. The agency teased that we'd be able to "see Mars like never before," and it wasn't kidding. The six-wheeled rover landed safe and sound on the surface of Mars on Feb. 18, and a suite of specialized cameras captured every moment from the second its parachute deployed all the way to touchdown. 

"This is the first time we've been able to actually capture an event like the landing of a spacecraft on Mars," said Mike Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a press briefing Monday. "We all binge-watched them over the weekend."

You can watch the landing video below: 

Watch this: Watch NASA's Perseverance landing video (and hear the sounds of Mars)

The footage begins about seven miles above the surface and ends with a farewell to Perseverance's descent stage. An extreme amount of data has been beamed back to Earth to bring us images of another world. "We collected a little over 30GB of information and and over 23,000 images of the vehicle descending down to the surface of Mars," said Dave Gruel, EDL and camera suite lead on Perseverance. 

We've become somewhat familiar with the dusty red surface of our cosmic neighbor, mostly thanks to rover missions led by NASA over the last two decades. But even the most keen Mars watchers will be blown away by what NASA has delivered from just above the surface of an alien planet. 

There are a lot of wonderful moments in the footage. The heat shield being jettisoned from the bottom of the spacecraft is a serene sayonara to Perseverance's protective gear. The black disc flies from Perseverance to its final resting place on the surface of Mars. 


The heat shield jettisoned by Perseverance minutes before landing. Bye!


But the highlight of the new footage is vision from both the rover looking up at its descent stage and the opposite, from the descent stage looking down.  

We have already seen stunning images from the descent and landing phase, but watching it unfold in real time is mind-blowing.

The descent stage lowers Perseverance to the ground via a "skycrane" -- like a reverse claw machine, dropping a toy, rather than trying to pick it up. Once the rover is safely on the ground, the descent stage autonomously flies away from the rover's landing zone and nosedives into the Martian soil. "Percy" gets a great look at the descent stage just before it departs, a final goodbye to the craft before its demise.

The team also revealed audio from a microphone installed on Perseverance, though audio could not be recovered during the landing phase. "What we think happened is that there was a communication error between the device that is responsible for digitizing the analog signals that the microphone picks up and and then passing the app to the computer that actually stores all the data," Gruel said.

Perseverance is now ready to survey its new home in Jezero Crater, an ancient lake bed, for signs of past life. We've already seen the fruits of its early labors in stunning images from its descent and landing, and the press briefing showed many more images. The team promised thousands of raw images would be made available today at the Perseverance mission site.

Perseverance launched on July 30, 2020, beneath the early morning sun of the Florida coast aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V. It spent the last seven months traveling from Earth to Mars, shielded from the harsh environment of space within the Mars 2020 spacecraft. 

When it reached Mars, it jettisoned its outer layer and slammed into the red planet's tenuous atmosphere. Only 10 minutes later, it had planted its six wheels firmly on the Martian soil in Jezero Crater, a location that scientists believe was once a lake bed. Where there's water, there's potential for life -- and Perseverance will seek signs Mars was once inhabited by alien microbes.

You can rewatch the entire press briefing at the link below:  

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