This image of Perseverance’s backshell and parachute was collected from an altitude of 26 feet (8 meters) by Nasa’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on April 19, 2022. (Credit: Nasa/JPL)
Is there life on Mars? No, but there is space debris.
Nasa’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter recently snapped several pictures showing the parachute that helped the agency’s Perseverance rover land on Mars and the cone-shaped backshell that protected the rover in deep space and during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface in February last year.
In the images of the upright backshell and the debris field that resulted from it impacting the surface at about 78 mph (126 kph), the backshell’s protective coating appears to have remained intact during Mars atmospheric entry.
Many of the 80 high-strength suspension lines connecting the backshell to the parachute are visible and also appear intact.
Of course, everyone is making the same comment about humans leaving waste wherever they go.
‘We’ve now started to dump our crap on other planets…,’ commented one user on Twitter.
Another added: ‘Look at that … Earth is not big enough for our own trash- let’s trash mars now.’
Spread out and covered in dust, only about a third of the orange-and-white parachute can be seen.
At 70.5 feet (21.5 metres) wide, it was the biggest ever deployed on Mars.
But the canopy shows no signs of damage from the supersonic airflow during inflation. Several weeks of analysis will be needed for a more final verdict.
‘Nasa extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this,’ said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
‘Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return’s reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars.’
Entry, descent, and landing on Mars is fast-paced and stressful, not only for the engineers back on Earth, but also for the vehicle enduring the gravitational forces, high temperatures, and other extremes that come with entering Mars’ atmosphere at nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph).
The parachute and cone-shaped backshell protected the rover during its fiery descent toward the Martian surface on Feb. 18, 2021. (Credits: Nasa/JPL)
The parachute and backshell were previously imaged from a distance by the Perseverance rover.
But those collected by the rotorcraft (from an aerial perspective and closer) provide more detail.
And despite the backlash from internet naysayers, Nasa engineers say there is much to be learned from these pictures.
The images have the potential to help ensure safer landings for future spacecraft such as the Mars Sample Return Lander, which is part of a multimission campaign that would bring Perseverance’s samples of Martian rocks, atmosphere, and sediment back to Earth for detailed analysis.
‘Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,’ said JPL’s Ian Clark, former Perseverance systems engineer and now Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead.
‘But Ingenuity’s images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring.’