No One Has Seen a Mars Landing Like This

NASA engineers have captured a rover’s swift descent to the surface of the red planet.

The descent of a little rover from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the surface is one of the most notoriously stressful occasions in space exploration. When NASA’s newest rover, Perseverance, took the plunge last week, the engineers at mission control braced themselves. They knew just how much had to go right—and how much could go terribly wrong—in the next seven minutes.

The spacecraft came barreling into the atmosphere at thousands of miles an hour. Its cameras captured the action from several angles, documenting a complex sequence to slow itself or else crash, erasing years of work in an instant. The landing was picture-perfect. And yet, after NASA released the video footage of the descent to the public yesterday, my jaw dropped. What on Earth—no, what on Mars—did I just watch?

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