Jason DavisFeb 22, 2021

Perseverance Firsts: The Best Moments from NASA's Mars Rover Landing

The nail-biting drama of a Mars landing can now be experienced like never before, thanks to a treasure trove of imagery and sound captured by NASA's Perseverance rover.

Perseverance's impressive suite of cameras and microphones captured the drama before, during, and after the spacecraft's successful landing on 18 February. An armada of orbiting spacecraft that tuned in to the landing from above are relaying gobs of data back to Earth, revolutionizing our view of Mars.

The Landing Video

Perseverance's much-anticipated landing videos are as spectacular as advertised. They represent an extraordinary leap forward in how future generations will visualize what it means to explore our solar system and beyond.

NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said during a press conference that the landing video should become "mandatory viewing" for young people, and we at The Planetary Society couldn't agree more.

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Perseverance Rover Landing Videos Multiple cameras aboard NASA's Perseverance rover captured the spacecraft's descent to Mars on 18 February 2021. This video combines the views and synchronizes them with audio callouts from mission control.Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perseverance Rover before touchdown
Perseverance Rover before touchdown NASA's Perseverance Rover descends on cables towards the surface of Mars in this image captured by its thruster-powered skycrane.Image: NASA/JPL

The Sound of Mars

For the first time ever, we have actual sounds from another planet.

Perseverance has two microphones, one of which attempted to record the sounds of the rover plummeting through the Martian atmosphere. NASA says that microphone did not collect any usable data during descent, but it did record some ambient sounds after landing on 20 February.

In this first audio clip from Mars, you'll hear the whirring sound of the rover itself, followed by the low whoosh of a gentle Martian breeze.

NASA also released a version that digitally removes the rover's mechanical sounds:

The Planetary Society has advocated for microphones on Mars since 1996, when co-founder Carl Sagan urged NASA to include them on a future mission. In 1999 we flew a crowdfunded microphone to Mars aboard NASA's Mars Polar Lander, which sadly crashed on the surface.

The View from Above

Just as it did for Phoenix and Curiosity, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a stunning image of Perseverance floating to the surface under parachute.

Perseverance under Parachute
Perseverance under Parachute NASA's Perseverance rover descends under parachute to Mars on 18 February 2021. The agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image from orbit at a distance of 700 kilometers (435 miles).Image: NASA/JPL/UArizona

A few orbits later, the long-lived spacecraft looked down again and spotted the aftermath of Perseverance's landing, including the rover itself safe and sound on the surface.

Perseverance rover landing components
Perseverance rover landing components NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft imaged the parachute, backshell, descent stage, and heat shield that helped the agency's Perseverance rover safely reach the surface of Mars safely on 18 February 2021. Perseverance itself is located in the image's bottom center.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

The First 360° View

Moments after landing, Perseverance began capturing images of its forever home in Jezero crater. Jezero is the site of an ancient river delta that once fed a Martian lake. On Earth, similar river deltas preserve a story of the past and signs of ancient life.

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Perseverance panorama in 3D NASA's Perseverance rover captured the images used to create this 360-degree view of its surroundings on 20 February 2021. Please note: Not all browsers support viewing 360 videos. YouTube supports their playback on computers using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera browsers. For best experience on a mobile device, play this video in the YouTube app.Video: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Rover's Eyes Open

After raising its long mast, Perseverance booted up the pair of color cameras called Mastcam-Z that serve as its main set of science eyes. Mastcam-Z's first order of business was imaging the calibration targets that will help scientists understand how conditions on Mars impact what the cameras see.

Perseverance Rover Calibration Target on Mars
Perseverance Rover Calibration Target on Mars NASA's Perseverance Rover captured this first image of its calibration target on the surface of Mars on 18 February 2021. The Planetary Society helped design the calibration target as part of its education and public outreach partnership with the Mastcam-Z science instrument team.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ASU

The calibration targets were designed in collaboration with The Planetary Society, which serves as the Mastcam-Z instrument's official education and outreach partner. Our organization also helped design the calibration targets on NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers.

The Easter Egg

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the mission, hid an easter egg in Perseverance's parachute. Can you figure it out? 

Perseverance's Parachute
Perseverance's Parachute NASA's Perseverance rover captured this image of its parachute during descent on 18 February 2021. The parachute contains a secret message that the agency asked the public to decode.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Click here if you need a hint. The Planetary Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars contest similarly challenged the public to find secret messages in the DVDs sent to Mars aboard NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers.

There's much more to come from Perseverance as it searches for past life on Mars and collects soil and rock samples for future return to Earth. Stay up to date on Perseverance and other missions by signing up for The Downlink, our weekly newsletter!

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