Science & Technology

Watch (and Hear) How NASA’s Perseverance Rover Took Its Epic First Selfie on Mars

This exhibits the sequence through which NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took 62 particular person photos with its WATSON digital camera, on April 6, 2021, earlier than they have been stitched collectively right into a single selfie. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The historic picture of the rover beside the Mars Helicopter proved to be one of the crucial complicated rover selfies ever taken. Video, with bonus audio, sheds gentle on the method.

Ever puzzled how Mars rovers take a selfie? Shade video from NASA’s Perseverance exhibits how the rover captured the historic April 6, 2021, picture of itself beside the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. As a bonus, the rover’s entry, descent, and touchdown microphone captured the sound of the arm’s motors whirring in the course of the course of.

Selfies permit engineers to examine put on and tear on the rover. However additionally they encourage a brand new technology of area fanatics: Many rover staff members can cite a favourite picture that sparked their curiosity in NASA.

“I acquired into this as a result of I noticed an image from Sojourner, NASA’s first Mars rover,” mentioned Vandi Verma, Perseverance’s chief engineer for robotic operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Verma labored as a driver for the company’s Alternative and Curiosity rovers, and he or she helped to create Curiosity’s first selfie, snapped on October 31, 2012. “Once we took that first selfie, we didn’t notice these would change into so iconic and routine,” she mentioned

Video from one among Perseverance’s navigation cameras exhibits the rover’s robotic arm twisting and maneuvering to take the 62 photos that compose the picture. What it doesn’t seize is how a lot work went into making this primary selfie occur. Right here’s a more in-depth look.

NASA’s Perseverance rover captured a historic group selfie with the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on April 6, 2021. However how was the selfie taken? Vandi Verma, Perseverance’s chief engineer for robotic operations at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California breaks down the method on this video. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Perseverance’s selfie got here along with the assistance of a core group of a couple of dozen individuals, together with rover drivers, engineers who ran checks at JPL, and digital camera operations engineers who developed the digital camera sequence, processed the pictures, and stitched them collectively. It took a couple of week to plot out all the person instructions required.

Everybody was working on “Mars time” (a day on the Purple Planet is 37 minutes longer than on Earth), which regularly means being awake in the midst of the night time and catching up on sleep in the course of the day. These staff members typically handed up that sleep simply to get the selfie carried out.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter, seen right here about 13 ft (3.9 meters) from the rover. This picture was taken by the WASTON digital camera on the rover’s robotic arm on April 6, 2021, the forty sixth Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

JPL labored with Malin Area Science Programs (MSSS) in San Diego, which constructed and operates the digital camera answerable for the selfie. Referred to as WATSON (Vast Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering), the digital camera is designed primarily for getting close-up element photographs of rock textures, not wide-angle photos. As a result of every WATSON picture covers solely a small portion of a scene, engineers needed to command the rover to take dozens of particular person photos to provide the selfie.

“The factor that took essentially the most consideration was getting Ingenuity into the suitable place within the selfie,” mentioned Mike Ravine, Superior Tasks Supervisor at MSSS. “Given how small it’s, I believed we did a fairly good job.”

This pc simulation exhibits NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover taking its first selfie, on April 6, 2021. The standpoint of the rover’s WATSON digital camera is included to indicate how every of the 62 photos have been taken earlier than being despatched to Earth and stitched collectively into the selfie. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When photos come down from Mars, the MSSS picture processing engineers started their work. They begin by cleansing up any blemishes brought on by mud that settled on the digital camera’s gentle detector. Then, they assemble the person picture frames right into a mosaic and easy out their seams utilizing software program. Lastly, an engineer warps and crops the mosaic in order that it seems to be extra like a standard digital camera picture that the general public is used to seeing.

Just like the Curiosity rover (this black-and-white video from March 2020 exhibits the way it takes a selfie), Perseverance has a rotating turret on the finish of its robotic arm. Together with different science devices, the turret contains the WATSON digital camera, which stays targeted on the rover throughout selfies whereas being angled to seize part of the scene. The arm acts like a selfie stick, remaining simply out of body within the last product.

Commanding Perseverance to movie its selfie stick in motion is rather more difficult than with Curiosity. The place Curiosity’s turret measures 22 inches (55 centimeters) throughout, Perseverance’s turret is far larger, measuring 30 inches (75 centimeters) throughout. That’s like waving one thing the diameter of a street bike wheel simply centimeters in entrance of Perseverance’s mast, the “head” of the rover.

JPL created software program to make sure the arm doesn’t collide with the rover. Every time a collision is detected in simulations on Earth, the engineering staff adjusts the arm trajectory; the method repeats dozens of occasions to substantiate the arm movement is secure. The ultimate command sequence will get the robotic arm “as shut as we may get to the rover’s physique with out touching it,” Verma mentioned.

They run different simulations to make sure that, say, the Ingenuity helicopter is positioned appropriately within the last selfie or the microphone can seize sound from the robotic arm’s motors.

Together with its entry, descent, and touchdown microphone, Perseverance carries a microphone in its SuperCam instrument. The mics mark a primary for NASA’s Mars spacecraft, and audio guarantees to be an necessary new device for rover engineers within the years forward. Amongst different makes use of, it will probably present necessary particulars about whether or not one thing is working proper. Previously, engineers must accept listening to a check rover on Earth.

“It’s like your automotive: Even in case you’re not a mechanic, typically you hear an issue earlier than you notice one thing’s unsuitable,” Verma mentioned.

Whereas they haven’t heard something regarding up to now, the whirring motors do sound surprisingly musical when reverberating via the rover’s chassis.

Extra Concerning the Mission

A key goal for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, together with the seek for indicators of historic microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and previous local weather, pave the way in which for human exploration of the Purple Planet, and be the primary mission to gather and cache Martian rock and regolith (damaged rock and mud).

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA (European Area Company), would ship spacecraft to Mars to gather these sealed samples from the floor and return them to Earth for in-depth evaluation.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is a part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration method, which incorporates Artemis missions to the Moon that may assist put together for human exploration of the Purple Planet.

JPL, which is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California, constructed and manages operations of the Perseverance rover.
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