Space enthusiasts were recently treated to an eerie sight on Mars: wreckage from a crashed spacecraft. NASA’s small helicopter Ingenuity captured images this month showing parts that protected Perseverance during its landing on Red Planet last year.
These photos show the UFO-esque backshell and parachute used to slow the rover’s descent, providing insight into how future missions may land safely.
The Perseverance Rover
NASA’s Perseverance Rover is on an extraordinary mission. This car-sized robot is searching for evidence that microorganisms once thrived on Mars by drilling, scraping and collecting bits of terrain from Mars itself – as well as setting the framework to send samples back home to Earth.
Last week, Perseverance released the last of ten tubes containing Martian rock samples onto Mars surface for scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory to use as part of a sample depot on another planet for research purposes. It marked a first ever sample depot created on another world.
Images captured by NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter reveal that both the backshell and parachute that protected and slowed down rover’s descent have sustained some damage, though their protective coating and many of the 80 high-strength suspension cables appear intact, says NASA. A third of 70.5-foot wide striped parachute is still visible, although crumpled up with dust covering its surfaces – these new pictures could help scientists figure out why their system worked so effectively.
The Ingenuity Helicopter
At just one year into its Mars mission, the Ingenuity helicopter remains successful. As the inaugural powered flight demonstration across another planet using both custom-made components as well as cost-cutting off-the-shelf parts, its success continues.
As Mars has such a thin atmosphere, blades must rotate quickly in order to generate lift – but each time we get airborne with our rotorcraft it adds another dimension to our understanding of this Red Planet.
NASA is using innovation as part of their plan to explore Jezero Crater. Utilizing its latest flight, a helicopter has surveyed its complex landscape of cliffs and angles to figure out which routes the Perseverance Rover should follow.
These images were captured during Ingenuity’s 26th flight – a monumental milestone. Engineers at JPL, which manages the Helicopter technology demonstration for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are studying these pictures to see what went right during landing and hopefully utilize this knowledge for future Mars missions.
The Curiosity Rover
NASA personnel once witnessed their Mars rover safely land on its surface via video stream, sending shockwaves through NASA personnel’s nerves before celebrating with raised fists and applause.
But they were unknowingly unaware of a surprising discovery – though the rover may have made its landing, its back shell and parachute had left tangible remnants on Mars that can still be seen today in Gale Crater. Foam, metal springs and netting from its parachute as well as remnants from its heat shield can still be found scattered about.
Curiosity has also discovered other oddities on Mars that have scientists scratching their heads. In June, Curiosity snapped pictures of mysterious columns that appeared similar to naturally-occurring hoodoos but turned out to be cement-like material seeping into cracks in rocks and eventually solidifying over time.
Recently, the rover discovered rocks with spike-like protrusions. While experts cannot pinpoint exactly why this happened, many believe these spiky rocks may be linked to seismic activity.
The Mars Orbiter
The Mars Climate Orbiter was intended to study Earth’s atmosphere from orbit, acting as a communication relay for landing missions and gathering valuable information about past surface water bodies. Instead, its cameras have collected invaluable evidence of past surface waters.
After nearly a decade since it launched, the spacecraft failed during its descent into Mars’ atmosphere. Due to entering at a lower altitude than planned, its orbiter burned up in its descent.
An ambitious spacecraft capable of traveling to Mars can be an arduous challenge to build. ISRO scientists worked diligently to overcome this hurdle and turn their Mars Orbiter into an efficient mission vehicle.
Even after its crash, scientists have managed to locate most of the lander’s wreckage on Mars. They even studied its backshell and parachute that assisted its descent onto the planet; their results are astonishing – appearing like alien spacecraft wreckage but according to NASA they’re actually designed to help understand its atmosphere better.