NASA’s Mars rover had a secret message in its parachute. Meet the man behind him

The footage gives the world a glimpse of the often completely invisible process, including the deployment of parachutes to slow down the spacecraft once it enters the atmosphere.

Ian Clarke, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said the 70.5-foot supersonic parachute was an extraordinary engineering challenge. Clark, who has been in the JPL since 2009, has been working on the parachute for years. He drew his three tests on Earth to make sure that the parachute could survive blowing in the wind which is the speed of sound or the speed of Mach Mach 2.

“We did a test that didn’t really happen with the Viking program (in the ’70s and’ 80s), which was a supersonic parachute test of scale parachutes,” Clark said.

Parachute testing was conducted in 2017 and 2018 at NASA’s Opus Laps flight facility in Virginia. The test team mimicked the Matian environment using a sound rocket to reach the edge of space twice as fast as the speed of sound and to deploy the parachute.

Nylon, Technora and Kaver were used to make the largest parachute sent to Mars, a material that was three times stronger than the material used for the Curiosity rover landing in 2012.

The team felt confident in their test, but they all came down to the main performance of the parachute on Mars.

A secret code

Easter eggs have a history of being part of a mission sent by NASA to Mars. For example, thanks to the tiny holes in its wheels, the Curiosity Rover – which is exploring the Gail Crater – leaves the “JPL” tracks in Morse code as it lands around the Mertian landscape.

While working on parachute design, Clark knew there would be many utilities in creating patterns. The patterns on the parachute help to show its approach, how it swells and whether there is any damage after inflation. Checkerboard patterns can be confusing, so Clark wanted to use something less similar and more specific.

After that, Clark and some of his teammates decided to have some fun.

Clark is a puzzle enthusiast. He crosswords the New York Times every morning. His mother also saves the riddle from the Sunday edition in the Manila envelope he gives her whenever he visits her.

This otnoted image was captured by a parachute-up look camera of NASA's Perseverance Rover's defensive back shell as it turned toward Mars' Jezero crater.

He thought about encoding words using binary code. But what will be the message? While he was never one to look at the inspirational poster and make much sense out of it, three words arose against Clark: “Dare to do powerful things.”

The motto, taken from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, is found throughout the JPL campus.

“Certainly I don’t get bored reading‘ Der Mighty Things ’week after week,” Clark said. “And it’s not just a phrase, but it’s also a broader context of speech. This great inspirational message really represents the culture of JPL and NASA. “

He also included GPS coordinates for the JPL on the outer ring of the parachute.

When the parachute was inflated on Mars, only six people, including Clark, knew about the message’s existence.
The ingenuity helicopter calls home from Mars

During a press conference where the video was shared with the public on Monday, entry, descent and landing lead Alan Chen lamented that there might be something to dissect in the orange- and white parachute.

Within hours, space fans began posting what they had deciphered on Reddit and Twitter. Clark was excited to see others engaged in solving this type of puzzle, especially very quickly, as well as the joy that spread after the video was shared from Mars.

Clark hopes Drata’s images and videos will inspire people and help them go through the challenges of their day.

Inspiration becomes reality

Solar system missions such as Voyager, Galileo and Cassini have long inspired Clark.

As a child, Clarke watched Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” a PBS show recorded by his father in 1980. Clark watched Sagan talk about the billions of stars in the universe and shared the initial images returned by Voyager probes flying by Jupiter and Neptune. This piqued his curiosity and he wanted to get involved in aerospace engineering.

On February 18, the day of the landing for the rover, Clark sat in the entrance, original and landing battle room at the JPL in Pasadena. He heard the data coming on the computer screen and listening to Swati Mohan’s call out, guiding, navigating and controlling the operations operations, describing what had happened led to a perseverance mission.
The face of Perseverance Landing was an Indian American woman

The slightest thing can damage the parachute and “eventually lead to a bad day due to environmental chaos,” Clark said.

The wind moving in the wrong direction can have a catastrophic effect, causing the parachute to swell from the inside and destroy itself. Those who work in entry, descent, and landing often portray the parachute as the aspect of a mission that scares them the most, as it is one of the least predictable of missions.

When Mohan said the parachute had been deployed, Clark kept an eye on the spacecraft’s speed as it descended from the atmosphere. At first, it felt a little fast seeing the distance between the rover and the ground.

NASA has shared the first video and audio dio, new images of the Mars Perseverance Rover

But the parachute did its job, slowing down the rover, and it slowly landed picture-perfect.

When images and video from the descent began to return, Clark finally knew the team’s efforts had paid off and the parachute was beautifully inflated.

“The realization of what happened began to throb to the surface,” Clark said. “I said to the person who sent me the pictures, ‘Today I think, today I’m happy.'”

Exploring Mars

With each mission, NASA builds on its previous success. Clarke said this first video of the spacecraft landing on Mars will be used by teams planning other missions for decades.

The importance of this type of footage cannot be overstated.

Some of the first parachute tests for the Mars mission took place about 50 years ago, during a Viking program. Clark said footage of the tests on the 16-millimeter film was believed to be lost in history. But they found it in someone who donated it to a small museum in Bradenton, Florida.

The Mars rover landing was a moment of joy we all needed

Clark flew from Los Angeles to retrieve the film and has restored and digitized it. Now the footage is used to compare with their recent parachute test.

Clark continues to work on the diligence mission in different ways. He was an auxiliary project systems engineer for sample hygiene, ensuring that the specimens collected by Perseverance Rover on Mars in search of ancient life would not be contaminated by anything on Earth.

Those samples will return to Earth in the 2030s followed by a mission called the Mars Sample Return. Clark will be leading the phase of the mission to get those samples back into orbit from the surface of Mars before returning to Earth.

“We’ve been wanting to do this kind of mission for almost six decades now,” Clark said. “When we dare to do powerful things, we can achieve truly extraordinary successes.”