NASA shared a video this week which showed off what it looks like when a spacecraft lands on Mars for the first time. The video showed the Perseverance Mars rover deploying a large and colorful orange-and-white parachute which many were quick to notice had a hidden message in it.
Allen Chen is the entry, descent, and landing lead for the rover who spoke with the media this past Monday regarding the hidden message and how quick the public was able to pick up that the pattern on the parachute was more than just a randomly colorful design.
“You might notice the pattern that’s on the parachute here. Distinct patterns are useful in helping us determine the clocking orientation of the parachute. Also, the contrasting sections 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.”
Adam Steltzner is the rover’s chief engineer who tweeted out his shock that the internet was able to take on Chen’s challenge and decode the message in less than 6 hours of it’s initial posting on Twitter. The parachute’s hidden message included the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory motto “Dare Mighty Things,” as well as GPS coordinates for JPL in Pasadena, California.
According to Stelzner the messages were embedded in the parachute using binary code within the white and orange triangles of fabric. The inner part of the parachute includes the “Dare mighty things” motto, with each word hidden in an expanding ring of the triangles. The band around the parachute is where the GPS coordinates can be found as well.
The motto initially was taken from the famous Theodore Roosevelt quote: “Far better is it 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 nor defeat.”
The rover was also built by the team at JPL, which is where the mission is being managed. Ian Clark is the rover’s systems engineer and was the one who came up with the binary code message on the parachute.
“The brainchild 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,” Chen tweeted.
The Perseverance rover has plenty of other hidden secrets as well, which NASA claims will slowly be revealed the longer the rover is on Mars. For example, the rover contains silicon chips containing the names of nearly 11 million people who participated in the “send your name to Mars” campaign. The chips also include 155 essays submitted by students who entered a contest to name the rover.
The Perseverance rover also has a metal plate dedicated to health care workers combating the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to media reports, “on the rover’s deck is a symbol-laden calibration target for Mastcam-Z, or the rover’s pair of zoomable cameras. The calibration target includes color swatches to adjust the cameras’ settings, but also symbols of a man and a woman, a fern, a dinosaur, a rocket traveling from Earth to Mars, a model of the inner solar system, DNA and cyanobacteria, which is one of the earliest forms of life on Earth.
The target also includes the motto “Two Worlds, One Beginning” on it, which refers to the concept that Earth and Mars were created from the same dust, unifying us and every other planet within our solar system.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.