“The huge parachute used by NASA’s Perseverance rover to land on Mars contained a secret message, thanks to a puzzle-lover on the spacecraft team — and space lovers solved it within hours.
Engineers wanted an unusual pattern in the orange and white stripes of the 21-metre nylon parachute so they’d be able to see how it was oriented during Perseverance’s descent to the Red Planet.
Systems engineer and crossword hobbyist Ian Clark came up with the idea two years ago to use a binary code to spell out a hidden message: “Dare Mighty Things”.
It’s a line from former US president Theodore Roosevelt and a mantra of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is running the Perseverance project.
The message adorns many of the walls of JPL’s mission headquarters in Pasadena, California.
Mr Clark’s message also included GPS coordinates to a spot just 3 metres from JPL’s visitor centre.
Only about six people knew about the encoded message before last week’s landing.
They waited until the parachute images came back before putting out a teaser during a televised media conference early on Tuesday.
It only took just a few hours for space fans to figure it out.
Mr Clark said coming up with the secret message was “super fun”, but admitted “I’ll have to be a little bit more creative” next time.
The trick was “trying to come up with a way of encoding it but not making it too obvious,” he said.
Another added touch not widely known until touchdown: Perseverance bears a plaque depicting all five of NASA’s Mars rovers in increasing size over the years — similar to the family car decals seen on Earth.
The rover also carries a plate that is dedicated to medical and frontline workers during the COVID crisis.
“We’re proudly carrying this plate to Mars so that we’ll remember back here on the Earth in the year 2020 and 21 that there was a community that stepped up and bravely did their jobs so that we could do ours,” deputy project manager Matt Wallace said earlier this year.
Mr Wallace has promised more so-called hidden Easter eggs during the Perseverance project.
They should be visible once Perseverance’s 2-metre arm is deployed in a few days and starts photographing under the vehicle, and again when the rover is driving in a couple of weeks’ time.
“[You] definitely, definitely should keep a good lookout,” he said.”