Secret message in Mars rover’s parachute

Associated Press
·2-min read

The huge parachute used by NASA’s Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message, thanks to a puzzle lover on the spacecraft team.

Systems engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out “Dare Mighty Things” in the orange and white strips of the 70-foot (21-meter) parachute.

He also included the GPS coordinates for the mission’s headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Systems engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out
Systems engineer Ian Clark used a binary code to spell out "Dare Mighty Things" on the Mars Perseverance rover's parachute, as an illustration over the parachute shows. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP

Clark, a crossword hobbyist, came up with the idea two years ago. Engineers wanted an unusual pattern in the nylon fabric to know how the parachute was oriented during descent.

Turning it into a secret message was “super fun,” he said on Tuesday.

Only about six people knew about the encoded message before Thursday’s landing, according to Clark.

They waited until the parachute images came back before putting out a teaser during a televised news conference on Monday.

The parachute seen during the descent stage during NASA's Perseverance Rover's descent to Mars, 18 February 2021. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The parachute seen during the descent stage during NASA's Perseverance Rover's descent to Mars, 18 February 2021. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It took just a few hours for space fans to figure it out, Clark said. Next time, he noted, “I’ll have to be a little bit more creative.”

“Dare Mighty Things” — a line from President Theodore Roosevelt — is a mantra at JPL and adorns many of the centre’s walls. The trick was “trying to come up with a way of encoding it but not making it too obvious,” Clark said.

As for the GPS coordinates, the spot is three metres from the entrance to JPL’s visitor centre.

The Mars Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of the planet on Thursday, February 18, 2021. Source: NASA/PA
The Mars Perseverance rover touched down on the surface of the planet on Thursday, February 18, 2021. Source: NASA/PA

Another added touch not widely known until touchdown: Perseverance bears a plaque depicting all five of NASA’s Mars rovers in increasing size over the years — similar to the family car decals seen on Earth.

Deputy project manager Matt Wallace promises more so-called hidden Easter eggs. They should be visible once Perseverance’s two metre arm is deployed in a few days and starts photographing under the vehicle, and again when the rover is driving in a couple weeks.

“Definitely, definitely should keep a good lookout,” he urged.

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