After yesterday’s mind-blowing Entry Descent and Landing (EDL) video reveal and dump of raw images for the public to gloss over, some have been looking closer at the pattern used on the parachute. While most parachutes use special designs, JPL has been know to hide secret messages all around their spacecraft and in less than a day Redditors decoded it.
The parachute, packed so tightly to the point where the density of the pack was close to the density of the material used, was deployed high in the Martian atmosphere. Going just under 1600 kph (1000 mph), this happened just 3 minutes before touchdown and is key to gaining a radar lock on the ground to help determine where it is safe for the rover to land.
Fired from a mortar out the back of the backshell, the part that covers and protects the rover during entry and descent, it deploys in less than 2 seconds immediately helping to slow the rover down in the thin Martian atmosphere. As it unfurls it shows an asymmetrical orange and white pattern. Asymmetrical designs are common in spaceflight so teams watching the video can identify sections of parachutes as events happen.
While it may just look like a design meant to be unique whichever way you look at it, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been know to leave little messages on their rovers for fun and they have gotten good at it. They put “J-P-L” in morse code on one of the wheels of Curiosity to mark their territory as they go and also put the same message but in braille on the InSight lander. This time they added a much more meaningful message in a much harder-to-find spot.
Confirmed by Perseverance’s Chief Engineer Adam Steltzner, users on Reddit decoded the parachute colors by using the oranges as “1”s and white spots as “0”s to spell out JPL’s motto “Dare Mighty Things”. Each ring represents a word with the fourth ring giving the coordinates to JPL’s headquarters in Southern California.
This motto is displayed all over their headquarters including behind the EDL team in their mission control room as well as on their famous containers of peanuts they eat before every mission. It’s funny to think that the effort to put this hidden message on Mars might have never have been seen if the last-minute addition of the EDL cameras weren’t added.