The successful Mars landing of the rover Perseverance on February 18 provides the US with the chance to accomplish several firsts.
This includes a drone helicopter flight on another planet, access to an ancient river delta that may yield microbial fossils and the most exciting feat of all for the internet age: high-definition video of touchdown on another planet.
The third is now a reality, after Nasa released the stunning video Monday following a big social media build-up at the weekend.
The video clip, lasting three minutes and 25 seconds, showed the deployment of the parachute and the rover's touchdown on the surface of Mars in a cloud of dust.
"These are really amazing videos," Michael Watkins, director of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a briefing for reporters. "This is the first time we've ever been able to capture an event like the landing on Mars."
The so-called seven minutes of terror from the top of Mars’s atmosphere to the surface is a perilous flight at best—with extreme heat, crushing gravitational forces caused by extreme deceleration from over 19,000 kilometres per hour, and a complex series of maneuvers that had to go just right for the rover, which weighs about 1,000 kilograms, to settle on to the red planet at a gentle 2.9kph.
The craft had travelled about 470 million kilometres since its July 30 launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the US.
In the past, the final descent was observed purely within the domain of computer graphics and animation.
For Perseverance, however, the agency stowed upward-facing, high-definition video cameras and a microphone to record this most dangerous phase of the journey, both for the engineering insight and the enormous public interest in witnessing video of a Mars touchdown.
On Friday, Nasa released a still image of the rover being lowered on its rocket-powered “sky crane”—another first for the US space agency.
But now, there’s video. The film was made with six “ruggedised” commercial cameras, one of which failed when an on-board mortar fired to deploy the parachute. Nasa collected 23,000 images during the rover's entry, descent and landing phase and 30GB of data.
Jessica Samuels, Perseverance's surface mission manager, said the rover was operating as expected so far.
"I am happy to report that Perseverance is healthy," Ms Samuels said.