On Thursday, February 18, the NASA rover Perseverance touched down on the surface of Mars after more than half a year’s journey through space. If you’re wondering what that landing process looks like, you’re in luck: NASA released a stunning video detailing Perseverance’s descent onto the Jezero Crater.
First, the rover careened through Mars's upper atmosphere at 12,500 mph, with the help of a shield that blocked heat from the friction generated by its movement. The footage starts nearly four minutes later, when a parachute disengages from the rover and uncovers one of the camera lenses. Five cameras captured the footage, and the video shows alternate views. After watching the parachute for a few seconds, you’ll see the heat shield floating away from the rover, which decelerates as it prepares to land on the surface of Mars.
Members of NASA’s mission control team narrate the action as it unfolds, providing helpful information about Perseverance’s velocity and distance from the crater. Toward the end of the video (at the 2:45 mark), you’ll see views from three cameras: one showing Mars’s surface as seen from Perseverance, one showing Perseverance from above, and the third showing the sky crane responsible for lowering Perseverance onto the surface via cables. All three views are soon obscured by dust and debris as the rover nears land, and then you get to hear (and see) an almighty cheer from all the mask-clad engineers back at mission control.
The scene of ecstatic celebration is even more understandable when you realize those people have just endured what they call “seven minutes of terror.” Basically, the distance between Mars and Earth is so great that communication between NASA and Perseverance happens on a delay—which means the rover had to navigate the landing on its own, and the engineers found out how it had gone about seven minutes later.
“This video of Perseverance’s descent is the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a press release. “It should become mandatory viewing for young women and men who not only want to explore other worlds and build the spacecraft that will take them there, but also want to be part of the diverse teams achieving all the audacious goals in our future.”
NASA also shared two audio tracks of what Mars sounded like on Saturday, February 20. You can mainly hear the rover’s own mechanical whirring in the first clip, but the second filters that out—leaving only the planet’s eerie, bassy breeze.
Now that Perseverance is safely planted on the planet, it’ll start exploring it for signs of ancient microbial life and amassing a cache that comprises core samples of soil and rock. Future missions will transport the contents of that cache back to Earth, so scientists can unlock the secrets of Mars’s geological makeup.