NASA releases first-ever video of a human-made spacecraft landing on another planet

NASA has released stunning footage of its new rover's descent towards the Martian surface, the first time video of a craft landing on another planet has ever been recorded. 

Perseverance successfully touched down on Mars last week, prompting applause in the control room back on Earth. But those celebrations were solely based on data sent back by the car-sized machine - they'd have to wait hours for video of the actual descent to arrive. 

"These are days that I’ve waited years for - it almost doesn't seem real," descent imagery team member Adam Nelessen told National Geographic. "It looks like it’s straight out of a science fiction movie."

The video begins when Perseverance is 12km above the surface of the red planet and travelling at supersonic speeds. Its parachute comes out, instantly reducing its speed to 480 metres per second.

"This is the first time we've been able to see ourselves, see our spacecraft, land on another planet," said deputy project manager Matt Wallace in a Q and A after the video was made public. 

The heat shield, no longer needed, is released. Two minutes later Perseverance is just a kilometre above the ground, falling at 75m/s, and the landing thrusters are turned on. 

When the craft is 20m from the ground, the video goes into split screen. One feed shows the landing site in the Jezero Crater directly below the rove, dust being swirled around by the thrusters; a second looks down from the still-flying descent vehicle, showing the rover being lowered by ropes; and the third looks up from the rover at the descent vehicle.

"That gives me goosebumps every time I see it, it's just amazing," said Dave Gruel, NASA engineer in charge of Perseverance's cameras. "I hope everybody kept their hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times." 

The footage was shot using off-the-shelf commercial cameras specially "ruggedised" for the mission, Gruel added. 

"We now have *video* of the Perseverance rover landing and it's straight up jaw-dropping," prominent astronomer Phil Plait tweeted.

Gruel said shooting the landing wasn't a priority for the mission - compared to the rest of the data Perseverance will collect, it's of little scientific value, and was only included after his team was able to prove it would do "no harm" to the rest of the rover and its goals.

"We get what we get, and we don't get upset."

Justin Mackey, Mars 2020 mission imaging scientist, said it was six years ago Gruel asked him to help figure out how they could successfully film the landing.

"I've actually worked on all five of the NASA rover missions, and as part of my job I review images from Mars like, every day - it's what I do. When I saw these images come down, I have to say I was truly amazed." 

Elsewhere in the Q and A, Wallace explained how the COVID-19 pandemic nearly derailed the mission entirely - launch windows only open up every two years, so if Perseverance wasn't launched in 2020, the mission - seven years in the making - would have been put back until 2022.