On Feb. 18, 2021, NASA's Perseverance rover landed on Mars. At about 1.3 miles altitude, the rover's parachute and backshell were cast away, hitting the ground at approximately 78 mph. This week, NASA shared remarkable new images of the gear that helped Perseverance make its landing. The images, taken by NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, should give NASA a better understanding of what exactly happened when Perseverance's protective gear touched down on Mars and how to better prepare for future Mars missions.
Landing successfully on Mars is a major feat -- only about 40% of the missions ever sent to Mars by any space agency have been successful. When the Perseverance rover entered the Martian atmosphere, it was traveling at nearly 12,500 mph. The spacecraft had to slow down as much as possible while enduring extreme heat, the planet's gravitational forces, as well as pockets of air that could throw it off course.
So it could withstand those conditions -- as well as its journey through deep space -- the Perseverance was outfitted with a cone-shaped backshell. The rover also had a 70.5 feet wide orange-and-white parachute to help it during its descent.
The new images give a new perspective of both the parachute and the backshell on the Marian surface, hopefully shedding new light on how the components held up during the landing. The Ingenuity took 10 aerial color images during its 26th flight on April 19.
"Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown," Ian Clark from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement. "But Ingenuity's images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring."
Based on the pictures available, the backshell's protective coating appears to have remained intact. Only about a third of the parachute is visible, but the images also show many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute.
Almost exactly one year ago, the Ingenuity helicopter became the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. The 19-inch-tall, 4lbs rotorcraft isn't carrying any of its own scientific instruments. It's on Mars to help determine whether future explorations there could be conducted from the air.