Nasa scientists on Friday offered striking early images from the picture-perfect landing of the Mars rover Perseverance, including a selfie of the six-wheeled vehicle dangling just above the surface of the Red Planet moments before touchdown.
The color photograph, likely to become a direct classic among outstanding images from the history of spaceflight, was snapped by a camera mounted on the rocket-powered “sky crane” descent-stage just above the rover as the car-sized space vehicle was being lowered on Thursday to Martian soil.
The image was showed by mission managers during an online news briefing webcast from Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles less than 24 hours after the landing.
The picture, looking down on the rover, shows the entire vehicle deferred from three cables unspooled from the sky crane, along with an “umbilical” communications cord. Swirls of dust kicked up by the crane’s rocket thrusters are also visible. Seconds later, the rover was mildly planted on its wheels, its chains were severed, and the sky crane – its job completed – flew off to crash a safe distance away, though not before photos and other data collected during the descent were transmitted to the rover for safekeeping.
The image of the dangling science lab, striking for its lucidity and sense of motion, marks the first such close-up photo of a spacecraft landing on Mars, or any planet beyond Earth. The image was taken at the very end of the so-called “seven-minutes-of-terror” descent order that brought Perseverance from the top of Mars’ atmosphere, traveling at 12,000 miles per hour, to a gentle touchdown on the floor of a vast basin called the Jezero Crater.
This picture certainly creates history. Don’t you think so?