(WHTM) — NASA has released a set of photographs taken on April 19, showing the heat shield and parachute used to land the Perseverance Rover on Mars on February 18, 2021.
The pictures were taken by Ingenuity, the helicopter which went to Mars with Perseverance. NASA engineers hope studying the pictures will help them improve landing methods on future Mars projects.
Sending a mission to Mars isn’t easy. Over the 62 years since the first attempt to reach the Red Planet in 1960 (Korabi 4, USSR) almost half the missions have failed. Some missions failed to launch properly; some reached Mars and went dead for unknown reasons; some crashed while attempting to land.
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But with practice and experience, the success rate for Mars probes has improved steadily. Every NASA probe since 1999 has succeeded, right up to the landing of the Perseverance Rover. A heat shield (backshell) protected the probe as it plunged through Mars’ atmosphere, then a 70-foot wide parachute deployed to slow it down. The heatshield was jettisoned, and the “sky crane” which carried the actual rover separated from the chute, hovered as it lowered the rover to the ground on cables, then flew a safe distance off.
The Perseverance Rover was able to take a photo of the backshell and the parachute from a distance, but the picture doesn’t really show very much. The aerial images provide a much better view. The backshell was smashed by its impact with the surface at about 78 mph, but the protective coating seems to have survived the searing plunge into the Martian atmosphere. Only about a third of the parachute can be seen-the rest is covered in dust- but it seems undamaged, even though it deployed while the probe was still falling at supersonic speeds.
Perseverance is located in Jezero Crater, which contains a dry river delta. Most likely Ingenuity’s next big mission will be to examine some dry river beds, to help mission specialists decide where the probe should go next.