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Home / Science / NASA’s Mars rover has a secret message in the parachute.Meet the person behind

NASA’s Mars rover has a secret message in the parachute.Meet the person behind

The video tape gave the world a glimpse of a process that is usually completely invisible, including the deployment of parachutes to slow down the spacecraft after entering space.

Ian Clark, a systems engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said the 70.5-foot supersonic parachute is an extraordinary engineering challenge. Clark, who has been working at JPL since 2009, has worked on parachutes for many years. He conducted three tests on the earth to ensure that the parachute survived the expansion of wind speed, which is twice the speed of sound, or Mach 2.

Clark said: “The tests we conducted have not really been carried out since the Viking project (70s and 80s), which is a supersonic parachute test for parachutes.”


Parachute tests were conducted at NASA’s Wallops flight facility in Virginia in 2017 and 2018. The test team replicated the Martian environment by using sounding rockets to reach half of the edge of space at twice the speed of sound and deploying parachutes.

Nylon, Technora and Kevlar were used to make the largest parachute ever made. The material of the parachute was three times stronger than the material used when the Curiosity rover landed in 2012.

The team is confident in their test, but it all depends on the main performance of the parachute on Mars.


Easter eggs are part of NASA’s mission to Mars. For example, because of the tiny holes in its wheels, the Curiosity rover, who has been exploring the Gale Crater, left a Morse code “JPL” orbit on its way around the Martian landscape.

When working on parachute design, Clark knew that creating patterns would be useful. The pattern on the parachute helps to convey its direction, how to inflate and whether there is any damage after inflation. The checkerboard pattern can be confusing, so Clark wants to use something less uniform and more distinctive.

Then Clark and some of his team members decided to have some fun.

Clark is a puzzle junkie. He does “New York Times” crossword puzzles every morning. His mother also kept the Sunday version of the puzzle in a Manila envelope and gave it to him every time he visited her.

This annotated image was taken by a parachute camera on the protective rear hull of NASA's stellar rover as it descended to Mars.

He considered using binary codes to encode words. But what will the message be? Although he was never an inspirational poster publisher, he derives a lot of meaning from it, but three words stand out for Clark: “Dare to be bold.”

The motto comes from a speech by Theodore Roosevelt, which is found in buildings throughout the JPL campus.

Clark said: “Week after week, I will never get tired of reading “Da Shi Tong”.” “This is not only a phrase, but even the broader context of the speech. This great inspiring message really represents the overall culture of JPL and NASA.”

He also included JPL’s GPS coordinates on the outer circle of the parachute.

When the parachute expanded on Mars, only about six people, including Clark, knew the existence of the news.
Ingenious helicopter phone of Martian family

At a press conference where the video was shared with the public on Monday, Allen Chen, head of entry, descent and landing, ridiculed that the orange and white parachutes might have some deciphering points.

Within a few hours, space fans started posting their decrypted content on Reddit and Twitter. Clark was very happy to see other people (especially so fast) participating in solving this problem and the joy of spreading after sharing the Martian video.

Clark hopes that persistent images and videos can inspire people and help them overcome the challenges of this era.

Inspiration becomes reality

Voyager, Galileo and Cassini missions to explore the solar system have long inspired Clark.

As a child, Clark watched Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS show “Universe”, which was recorded by his father. Clark watched Sagan talk about the billions of stars in the universe, and shared the initial images returned by the Voyager probe during its flight on Jupiter and Neptune. This aroused his curiosity and made him want to participate in aerospace engineering.

On February 18, the day of the rover landing, Clark sat at the entrance of the JPL in Pasadena, descending and landing in the war room. He watched the data entered on the computer screen and listened to Swati Mohan’s annotations, which is the guide of the perseverance task, the person in charge of navigation and control operations, and described what was happening.
The face of Perseverance Landing is an Indian woman

Clark said that even the slightest thing can cause damage to the parachute, “eventually it will lead to a bad day due to environmental chaos.”

Moving the wind in the wrong direction can cause catastrophic effects, causing the parachute to expand from the inside out and self-destruct. Those who work during entry, descent, and landing often regard parachutes as one of their most feared missions, because parachutes are one of the most unpredictable missions.

When Mohan said that the parachute was deployed, Clark kept watching the speed of the spacecraft as it fell from the atmosphere. At first, considering the distance between the rover and the ground, it seemed a bit too fast.

NASA shared the first video and audio, new images of the Mars Perseverance Rover

But the parachute did its job, slowing the rover and landing smoothly in a picture-perfect manner.

When the images and videos of the descent began to appear, Clark finally knew that the team’s efforts had paid off, and the parachute was inflated beautifully.

Clark said: “What happened started to surface.” “I told the person who sent me the image,’I am happy for the first time today.'”

Explore Mars

In carrying out each mission, NASA builds on its previous successes. Clark said that teams planning to perform other missions in decades will use the first video of the space shuttle landing on Mars.

The importance of this type of lens cannot be overstated.

Some 50 years ago, during the Viking project, some of the first parachute tests for the Mars mission took place. Clark said that the lens tested on 16mm film is considered to have lost its history. But they were able to find someone who donated it to a small museum in Bradenton, Florida.

Mars rover landing is a happy time we all need

Clark flew from Los Angeles to retrieve the film, restored and digitized it. Now, compare the material with their most recent parachute test.

Clark continued to accomplish perseverance tasks in different ways. He is the project system assistant engineer responsible for sample cleaning, ensuring that the samples collected by the Persevering Rover while searching for ancient life on Mars will not be contaminated by anything on Earth.

These samples will return to Earth in the 2030s through a follow-up mission called “Mars Sample Return.” Clark will be the phase leader of the mission, which will retrieve these samples from the surface of Mars and then return to orbit before they return to Earth.

Clark said: “So far, we have been on such a task for nearly sixty years.” “When we dare to take risks, we can actually achieve amazing success.”

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