What is it like to land on Mars?



A panorama taken on February 20th, showing a fossilized river delta

At 3:55 pm EST on February 18th, NASA’s $2.7 billion dollar Perseverance rover made a faultless landing in the Mars Jezero crater, which was most likely once a lake many billions of years ago according to Science Magazine.

The rover aimed to travel to a fossilized river delta 2 kilometers away, which is ideal for preserving any life that may have once been there. Hopefully, data the rover obtained can be forwarded to NASA. As it travels, the rocks under its six aluminum wheels will be examined. 

But what would it be like to land on Mars?

Luckily, 2 days after the historic landing, NASA released a brief video of its rover entering Mars’ foreign atmosphere. This video was the very first of its kind to be seen on Earth. In the video, you can see the parachute-equipped craft hurdle through the thick plumes of dust in the atmosphere. It is then lowered down by nylon cords onto a debris-free spot.

Michael M. Watkins, the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which constructed the Perseverance and now commands the mission, spoke during a news conference. There he showed an image from NASA’s Mariner back in 1965, sent only from the first successful flyby of Mars. 

Today, cell phones are able to capture much more detailed images as compared to the technology we had in 1965. The Perseverance was strapped with 6 commercially obtained cameras as to not endanger the entry-3 on top of the entry capsule to record the billowing parachute, one captured the descent stage and the rocket field jetpack that accompanied the rover to the ground, and two positioned on the Perseverance itself, as said by Kenneth Chang in his New York Times article.

David Gruel, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in charge of the landing system surveillance and video angles, only had one failure through the entire landing process: the microphone designed to capture the sounds around the rover as it fell through the air. This was the consequence of a mere communication error, not the microphone’s blunder. 

Instead, Dr. Gruel’s system was able to capture the 10mph winds that surrounded the Perseverance after it made its picture-perfect touchdown. 

“It was alarmingly immersive,” said Angela Stonebraker, a Clinical Research Coordinator at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine “it seemed so different yet so familiar compared to the Earth we know.”

Here you can watch as the Perseverance plummets down to Mars and, like Dr. Gruel said “have a listen to what it would sound like to be on Mars.”