Amateur puzzle fans rejoiced this week when NASA found out it had hidden a secret color-coded message on the parachute for the Perseverance rover that landed on Mars last week.
The message, written by system engineer Ian Clark in binary code alternating with white and orange stripes on the 70-meter slide, articulated NASA’s motto “Dare Mighty Things,” which is derived from a quote from Theodore Roosevelt.
Clark, the lead developer of the parachute, had an interesting problem coding the message — he couldn’t use a color that hadn’t been tested in the atmosphere of Mars yet. Different colored paints can weaken their integrity in harsh environments.
“There are all sorts of secondary guesses,” Clark told The New York Times. “Just as it could be more white than orange, or vice versa, could it mean that the parachute heats up differently, and that might change its behavior?”
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Clark said that when he asked Deputy Project Manager Matt Wallace if he could put a message in the parachute, his only guideline was to “make sure it’s appropriate and can’t be misinterpreted.”
Only about six people knew about the coded message before last Thursday’s landing, Clark is a crossword puzzle fan who called the creation of the coded message “super fun”.
He said it only took the puzzlers a few hours to figure out the binary-coded mission after being teased at Monday’s press conference.
“Next time,” I need to be a little more creative, “he said.
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Clark also provided the GPS coordinates of the mission headquarters at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in the message – “34 ° 11’58” N N 118 ° 10’31 “.
At the press conference, engineer Allen Chen, who was in charge of the landing system, told space fans, “Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for this purpose. That’s why we invite everyone to give us a picture and show them work.”
The alternation of black and white – or orange and white in this case – often suggests that there is something in the binary code that gives fans the first clue.
Eventually, Internet investigators found that ones and zeros fit into groups of 10, and according to The Times, they formulated the inspiring message on the three inner rings of the parachute.
Within hours, computer science student Maxence Abela posted her answer on Twitter.
“The internet seems to have cracked the code in about 6 hours!” Adam Steltzner, the mission’s chief engineer, tweeted, showing a graph of the response.
They also wrote a message on a board that is used to calibrate the camera on the rover, writes The Times.
He says, “Are we alone? We came here to look for signs of life and to collect samples from Mars to study on Earth. We wish followers a safe journey and a joy of discovery.”
On the plaque, the depiction of all five NASA orbits of Mars is also growing over the years.
And Wallace promised more Easter eggs in connection with the rover.
He says they should be visible when the Perseverance’s seven-meter arm is deployed in a few days and starts taking photos under the vehicle, and when the rover drives in a couple of weeks.
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“Definitely, you have to pay close attention,” he urged.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.