On Monday NASA shared the groundbreaking, first look at a spacecraft touching down on Mars. That left the door wide open for the internet to begin decoding the cryptic message in the parachute captured by the Perseverance rover. The parachute, positioned above the rover, acted as the aid to help ease the descent of the spacecraft for landing.
“You might notice the pattern that’s on the parachute here,” said Allen Chen, the entry, descent, and landing lead for the rover, Monday. “Distinct patterns are useful in helping us determine the clocking orientation of the parachute. Also the contrasting sectors can be useful in tracking different portions of the parachute as it inflates.”
“In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts and our engineering can inspire others. Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose. So we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work.”
And in no time, space fans took up Chen on his challenge and began their decoding tactics to unravel the message.
It looks like the internet has cracked the code in something like 6 hours! Oh internet is there anything you can’t do? For those who just want to know: #Mars2020 #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/yTJCEnbuLY
— Adam Steltzner (@steltzner) February 23, 2021
Though the message may not be what you one was yearning for. The cryptic message included the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory motto, “Dare mighty things,” in addition to the GPS coordinates for JPL in Pasadena, California.
Using binary code, the messages were included on the parachute with white and orange gores, or pieces of triangular fabric. The band surrounding the parachute provides the GPS coordinates for JPL’s location. While the inner portion of the parachute provides “Dare mighty things,” with each word moving outward on the expanding rings.
The motto’s root comes from a Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Far better is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure – than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory but defeat.”
The mission is managed by a team at JPL, which is also where the rover was constructed. The mastermind behind the binary code parachute concept was the rover’s systems engineer, Ian Clark.
The brain child of Ian Clark- who has done anything the project asked him to do, whether it was lead, develop, and execute a supersonic parachute test program, prove the cleanliness of the sampling system, or support EDL operations. All around sharp and selfless dude. #Mars2020 https://t.co/xJ09Qx8ezt
— Allen Chen (@icancallubetty) February 23, 2021
Though the cryptic message was inspiring and playful for space fans, it is not the first of its kind for the Perseverance rover. And the mission team suggested that as more images return from the rover in the future, more will be revealed.
Nearly 11 million people participated in the “Send Your Name to Mars” campaign, and the rover carries silicon chips containing those names. Perseverance also pays a tribute to the health care workers who battled the pandemic on the front line, by adding a metal tribute plate, as well as 155 student essays who entered a contest to name the rover.
Located on the rover’s deck, is a symbol-laden calibration target for Mastercam-Z, or a pair of zoomable cameras. The color swatches provided on the calibration target help adjust the camera’s settings, and in between the swatches symbols of a man and a woman, a dinosaur, a fern, DNA and cyanobacteria (one of Earth’s earliest forms of life), a rocket traveling from Earth to Mars, and a model of the inner solar system. At the bottom of the target includes the phrase, “Two worlds, one beginning,” alluding to this idea that Earth and Mars were co-created from the same dust that swirled around the sun some billions of years ago.
The SHERLOC instrument, Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals, carries its own set of hidden gems. The bottom row of the instrument contains spacesuit materials to evaluate how they react over time to the radiation of the Martian atmosphere. And one piece specifically is polycarbonate, that can be used for a helmet visor, which doubles as a geocaching target, and has 221B Baker Street etched into the sample, the address of the renowned fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. The top row, to be used to fine tune the settings of the instrument, contains a piece of Martian meteorite.
Perseverance is not the only rover collecting Easter eggs. Curiosity, which began its exploration on the Martian surface in August 2012, left zigzagging patterns from the tread of its aluminum wheels. Embedded into the tread are tiny stamp-like dots. And as the rover roams the surface and leaves its tracks, the stamp-like dots leave “JPL” into the surface of the planet, which acts as Morse code for the JPL mission teams.