Last week’s pinpoint touchdown of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover in Jezero Crater was historic for many reasons, chief among them the epochal nature of the mission’s task of seeking signs of ancient life—and caching relevant samples for eventual return to Earth. But even if the rover finds no evidence of Martian microbes during its operations, it will have still produced another spectacular “first” for the textbooks, which NASA officials unveiled today: An unprecedented look at the “seven minutes of terror” between Perseverance’s fiery plunge through the planet’s skies and its coming to rest on solid ground far below. This is the first ever high-definition video of atmospheric entry, descent and landing on another world.
Perseverance’s predecessor Curiosity recorded snippets of the final stages of its Mars landing in 2012 that resulted in a short stop-motion video, and in 2005 the Cassini mission’s Huygens lander beamed back images and telemetry data from its chilly descent to Saturn’s moon Titan that were later used to construct remarkable visualizations. And there is, of course, no shortage of lunar landing footage from the Apollo missions of yore. But never before has a spacecraft captured the entire sequence of an otherworldly landing in such lush detail. More than mere eye candy, this data could prove crucial for the design of future, more ambitious voyages to the Red Planet’s surface, which is considered to be one of the solar system’s most technically challenging landing destinations.
Here is NASA’s livestream on the footage.
Video credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech