It’s been two weeks since the Perseverance Rover landed on Mars, and while in the grand scope of the mission not a lot has happened, a lot of things have happened. So far, we have received 7000 images from the rover. Flight software updates were sent across the gap between Earth and Mars, and the system is nominal. The rover’s masts and robotic arms have been deployed, and things are working as they should. Yesterday, Percy took it’s first drive on the red planet, including a six meter trek and a check-out donut. Many of the scientific instruments are still coming on line, as the team continues to take a step approach to start-up, and the helicopter is still weeks away from deployment. In other words, we know we can walk, we just aren’t ready to chew gum at the same time.
For us JPL’s who aren’t directly involved with the mission, we are gobbling up whatever is leaked out from progress. Today, they held the second post landing press conference, and a large number of people are blocking meeting time off so that we can watch the press conference. Sometimes, we get leaks and rumors, and the rest of us eat all that stuff up. The first press conference caused half the lab to melt down. Held just a few days after the landing, the Perseverance team shared video of the landing. The video includes cameras on the decent stage, up at the parachute, below the sky crane, and up from the rover – all posted against the audio of the crew watching from mission control. It was the first video shared If you haven’t seen it, check it out:
The call “Tango Delta” still give me chills.
One of the great moments on those early days happened in a discussion thread I called “the most JPL thread in JPL history.” Historically, JPL like to add special twists to our missions that start as inside jokes and then can become Easter eggs for people to find. Curiosity had Morse Code cut into the wheels that spelt JPL in the sand as it drove around. We’ve known Percy’s tires wouldn’t have something like that, so many people guessed what it could be. During that first press conference, it was revealed. They put a code in the color scheme of the parachute, though they didn’t say what the code was – just that we had to “show our work.” Over the next four hours, 120 replies were made on a single thread from JPLers guessing, and helping to crack the code. It was a group of some of the smartest people in the world helping each other to try to crack a code that we wrote. As it turned out, (SPOILER ALERT) the code was based on ASCI that when converted into numbers and letters spelt our our motto: “Dare Mighty Things” and the GPS Coordinates of JPL’s main gate.
The early photos near the landing show curious rocks suggesting volcanic activity, but the location was selected because it is a short drive from what appears to be a dried river delta. So much is going so well that the whole team is over the moon with excitement. Almost as a reward, the Perseverance Team received a video call from President Biden congratulating them on their success. The main quote from that call was when someone asked him about a moon rock he had in his possession. He said. “if you think this is great, wait until you see what we bring back from Mars.”