LOS ANGELES (US) – NASA scientists on Friday published early images of the Mars rover Perseverance, just before it landed on Mars. The images included a selfie of the six-wheeled vehicle dangling just above the surface of the Red Planet moments before touchdown.
The image was unveiled 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 image of the dangling science lab, striking for its clarity and sense of motion, marks the first such close-up photo of a spacecraft landing on Mars, or any planet beyond Earth.
Seconds later, the rover was gently planted on its wheels, its tethers 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.
“This is something we’ve never seen before,” Aaron Stehura, a deputy lead for the mission’s descent and landing team, describing himself and colleagues as “awe-struck” when first viewing the image.
The image was taken at the very end of the so-called “seven-minutes-of-terror” descent sequence 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.
Another color photo published on Friday, captured moments after the rover’s arrival, shows a rocky expanse of terrain around the landing site and what appear to be the delta cliffs in the distance.
The mission’s surface team will spend the coming days and weeks unfastening, unfurling and testing the vehicle’s robot arm, communication antennae and other equipment, aligning instruments and upgrading the rover’s software.