NASA released video last week of its Perseverance rover landing on Mars. The craft set down with the help of a huge parachute. It turns out, the clever spacecraft team had embedded a secret, coded message in the panels and colors of the chute.
Systems engineer Ian Clark used a binary code (an assortment of ones and zeroes) to encrypt the message in the orange and white stripes of the 70-foot-wied parachute. The message comprised a verbal motto and the GPS coordinates of the mission’s headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Clark is a crossword hobbyist—as many codebreakers tend to be. He came up with the idea two years ago. Engineers wanted the parachute to have an unusual, broken pattern in its fabric. That would let them see how the chute was oriented during descent. Clark thought it would be “super fun” to turn that pattern into a secret message.
Only about six people knew about the encoded message before the landing. After the parachute images came back and could be made public, that handful of people put out a teaser about the code in a televised news conference. Space fans descended on the challenge—studying the images and putting their best cipher-cracking brain cells to work. Within just a few hours, they’d solved the puzzle.
“Dare Mighty Things” the parachute exhorted.
The line is attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt. It’s a mantra (a motto or repeated phrase for solidarity and encouragement) at the Jet Propulsion Lab. Signs with the slogan adorn many of the center’s walls.
Deputy project manager Matt Wallace promises more so-called hidden “Easter eggs” for science fans to discover. They should be visible once Perseverance’s seven-foot arm is deployed. It will allow for photographing under the vehicle.
“Definitely, definitely should keep a good lookout,” Wallace urges.
(This NASA illustration layers a diagram over the parachute image. The diagram helps identify the code elements hidden in the orange and white strips of the 70-foot nylon device. NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)
A joyful heart is good medicine. — Proverbs 27:22