Last Friday, NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully touched down on Mars, where it has begun its two-year mission to search the planet for signs of ancient life.
On Monday, NASA released high-definition vision of Perseverance’s dynamic final descent towards Jezero Crater, captured by a series of video cameras onboard the spacecraft.
The footage begins 11 kilometres above the surface and chronicles the entirety of the spacecraft’s “seven minutes of terror”: the moment of parachute inflation; the separation of the heat shield; the slow descent of the spacecraft as its terrain navigation kicks in; and finally, the moment it settles safely in a swirl of dust.
A microphone on the rover has also provided the first ever audio recording of sounds from Mars.
The recording reveals mechanical sounds of the rover operating on the planet’s surface, with a Martian breeze faintly audible in the background.
This second version of the recording filters out the rover's self-noise, to make the sounds from Mars more audible (turn the volume right up to hear a little wind at 0:05).
The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CSDCC) played an important role in supporting communication between Perseverance and Earth upon the rover’s landing, and will continue to do so throughout the rover’s time exploring Mars.
The antennas at the CSDCC, managed by CSIRO on NASA’s behalf, ensure that the mission team can relay commands to the spacecraft and receive the valuable data that it collects.
“The entire team of scientists, engineers and programmers who have dedicated the last decade to this mission are the heroes today – along with our brilliant teams at the Deep Space Network who maintained signal lock through Perseverance’s ‘seven minutes of terror’ as it descended toward the surface of Mars,” Glen Nagle from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science said on the day of landing.
In its first few days on Mars, Perseverance has begun its set-up phase, expected to take around 90 Mars days (about 148 Earth days) to complete. This has so far involved unfurling parts of the rover, including the arm and antenna, to connect the rover to four spacecraft orbiting the planet and establish direct communication with Earth.
Currently, the rover is undergoing an extensive checkout of all its systems and instruments.
The next steps are to upload the software needed to perform the next phase, deploy some more instruments and conduct the rover’s first test drive. The Ingenuity helicopter will also be prepared for flight sometime in the next few weeks. Then, in a few months, the science program will kick off, beginning the hunt for signs of ancient microbial life on the Red Planet.
A number of Australian scientists will be integral to the success of this science program. Brisbane-born astrobiologist Abigail Allwood is the first woman and the first Australian to act as a principal investigator on a Mars mission, leading an instrument called PIXL which aims to reveal the chemical structures that indicate past bacterial life in Jezero’s three-billion-old rocks. David Flannery, a planetary scientist at the University of Queensland, is also serving as an instrument co-investigator and long-term planner for the mission.
Enrico Palermo, Head of the Australian Space Agency, has praised NASA on their successful landing of the rover.
“What was once science fiction is now a reality and we applaud NASA for continuing to inspire the global community with this exciting mission that could potentially unlock the wonders of space,” Palermo said.
“The Australian Space Agency looks forward to working closely with NASA on future missions to the Moon and beyond in the years ahead.”