NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance mission captured thrilling footage of its rover landing in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021. The real footage in this video was captured by several cameras that are part of the rover’s entry, descent, and landing suite. The views include a camera looking down from the spacecraft’s descent stage (a kind of rocket-powered jet pack that helps fly the rover to its landing site), a camera on the rover looking up at the descent stage, a camera on the top of the aeroshell (a capsule protecting the rover) looking up at that parachute, and a camera on the bottom of the rover looking down at the Martian surface. The audio embedded in the video comes from the mission control call-outs during entry, descent, and landing. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

On Monday, NASA released a short video captured by the agency’s Perseverance spacecraft as it dropped through the Martian atmosphere on Thursday last week, ending with the successful arrival of the rover on Mars’s surface. It is the first video of its kind sent back to Earth from the planet.

The camera system covers the entirety of the descent process, showing some of the rover’s intense ride to Mars’ Jezero Crater. The footage from high-definition cameras aboard the spacecraft starts 7 miles (11 kilometers) above the surface, showing the supersonic deployment of the most massive parachute ever sent to another world, and ends with the rover’s touchdown in the crater.

Three cameras were on the top of the entry capsule, facing upward. One failed, but two captured the parachute shooting upward at about 100 miles per hour and then billowing open to slow a spacecraft that was speeding toward the ground at 1,000 miles per hour.

“You can get a sense really of how violent that parachute deploy and inflation are,” said Allen Chen, the engineer in charge of the E.D.L. system.

The USGS initially developed two maps for the Mars 2020 mission, including a surface terrain map that spans the landing site and much of the surrounding area and a high-resolution base map that was used by researchers to accurately map surface hazards at the landing site. The terrain map and maps of surface hazards traveled aboard the spacecraft and will be used to help it land safely. The base map will continue to serve for mission operations on Earth as scientists plot where the rover will explore once it’s on the ground. All the maps have been aligned with unprecedented precision to each other and to global maps of Mars to ensure that they show where everything really is.

In addition to the onboard maps used during the descent, USGS researchers also assisted in publishing a new geologic map of Jezero crater and Nili Planum – the ancient, cratered highlands where the crater impacted. The geologic map covers the landing site and surrounding terrain that the rover will encounter on its travels during the course of its mission. The geologic map is at a similar scale to our own USGS topographic maps, which is quite an impressive feat given that no one has ever set foot on the Martian surface, which is literally worlds away. The full extent of the geologic map covers roughly 40 square miles and includes some of the oldest terrain on Mars. And most importantly, the area being explored shows a rich history of diverse surface processes involving liquid water – an essential feature for life.

“Exploration is part of human nature,” said Jim Skinner, USGS research geologist. “I’m excited to see what the rover sees and how its discoveries will expand our knowledge of the Martian surface and the planet’s geologic history.”

For more details about USGS involvement in the Perseverance rover mission, visit the USGS Astrogeology Science Center website.

For the latest news about the mission, visit the NASA Mars 2020 mission website.
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