Was there a hidden message on Nasa's Mars rover parachute? Internet decodes 'dare mighty things' within 6 hours
The largest and the most advanced rover NASA has sent to another planet touched down on Mars on February 18 after a 203-day journey covering 293 million miles, or 472 million kilometers. While watching the footage of Perseverance’s entry, descent and landing – the riskiest portion of the rover’s mission that some engineers call the “seven minutes of terror” – people noticed that the parachute deployed by the spacecraft had a pattern.
It was, however, not a random pattern but a code that internet detectives solved in about 6 hours. The presence of a message – which we now know is “Dare Mighty Things” – was first hinted at by Allen Chen, the entry, descent and landing lead for the rover.
He said, “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.”
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IT student Abela Paf was one of the enthusiasts who cracked the code. He tweeted: “dare mighty things”! Well done!...@NASAPersevere @NASA My father and I found these three words hidden in the patterns of the lander's parachute!”
"dare mighty things" ! Well done! @NASA @NASAPersevere pic.twitter.com/Di1hkFQApd— Abela_Paf (@FrenchTech_paf) February 22, 2021
@NASAPersevere @NASA My father and I found these three words hidden in the patterns of the lander's parachute !— Abela_Paf (@FrenchTech_paf) February 22, 2021
Adam Steltzner, the rover’s chief engineer, later confirmed that people had correctly decoded it, tweeting: “It looks like the internet has cracked the code in something like 6 hours! Oh internet is there anything you can’t do?”
It looks like the internet has cracked the code in something like 6 hours! Oh internet is there anything you can’t do? For those who just want to know: #Mars2020 #CountdownToMars pic.twitter.com/yTJCEnbuLY— Adam Steltzner (@steltzner) February 23, 2021
The phrase can be traced back to an 1899 speech by Theodore Roosevelt in which he said, “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.”
Mars 2020 Perseverance systems engineer Ian Clark designed the binary code pattern. Chen tweeted: “The brain child 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.”
The brain child 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. #Mars2020 https://t.co/xJ09Qx8ezt— Allen Chen (@icancallubetty) February 23, 2021
The outer rings of the pattern also feature a set of coordinates, denoting the location of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission for the agency.
“Using binary code, two messages have been encoded in the neutral white and international-orange parachute gores. The inner portion spells out ‘Dare Mighty Things,’ with each word located on its own ring of gores. The outer band of the canopy provides GPS coordinates for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, where the rover was built and the project is managed,” NASA explained.
From the moment of parachute inflation, the camera system covered the entirety of the descent process, showing some of the rover’s intense ride to Mars’ Jezero Crater.
“Now we finally have a front-row view to what we call ‘the seven minutes of terror’ while landing on Mars. From the explosive opening of the parachute to the landing rockets’ plume sending dust and debris flying at touchdown, it’s absolutely awe-inspiring,” noted Michael Watkins, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
An important objective of Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet and will be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and sediment for later return to Earth.
Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA), would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these sealed samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis. The Mars 2020 mission is part of a larger NASA initiative that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.