After a seven-month journey, the Perseverance rover landed on Martian soil in February 2021.
A cone-shaped backshell shielded it as it traveled through deep space and during its fiery descent, while a parachute bearing a secret message that read “Dare mighty things” slowed it down enough for a safe landing. When Perseverance began roaming the planet, it had to leave those components behind. The rover’s companion helicopter, the Ingenuity, photographed the debris left on the landing site on April 19th, and NASA has now released images of what it looks like.
Perseverance had the best-documented landing in history, according to JPL’s Ian Clark, but Ingenuity’s photos provide a different perspective that could help future spacecraft land safely. This includes the Mars Sample Return Lander mission, which will retrieve the samples collected by Perseverance and send them back to Earth for analysis. Engineers from the program were the ones who inquired about Ingenuity’s ability to photograph the debris.
“If [the images] 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,” Clark explained.
The photo above shows what’s left of the spacecraft’s backshell and the overall effect of the spacecraft hitting the surface at 78 mph. NASA notes that the protective coating on the shell is still intact, as are the suspension lines connecting the shell to the now-buried parachute. Over the next few weeks, the agency’s scientists will analyze the images to reach a final decision, which will most likely include information that could help future missions.