One of the most significant feats in space exploration over the past few years is the landing of the Perseverance rover on the surface of Mars. Perseverance made a successful landing on the Red Planet a few days ago after an extremely harrowing journey through the thin Martian atmosphere. One of the critical pieces of the puzzle to get Perseverance on the ground safely was the descent stage.
The descent stage of the rocket is the rocket-powered section that is deployed after the parachute. The rover was slowly lowered from the descent stage via cables to the surface of Mars. Without the descent stage, Perseverance would have impacted the surface too hard and likely suffered catastrophic damage. The descent stage wasn’t designed to land safely, and once it had deployed the rover to the planet’s surface, it flew a distance off and sacrificed itself, ending its mission.
NASA has shared an image that shows the smoke plume from the intentional surface impact of the descent stage into the surface of Mars. The image was captured with one of the Hazcams aboard the Perseverance rover. A team scientist shared the image stating that the intentional surface impact protected the integrity of the rover and the landing site.
This isn’t the first time that NASA has intentionally crashed a descent stage into the surface of Mars a safe distance from one of its rovers. The rocket-powered sky crane that delivered the Curiosity rover to Mars on August 5, 2012, also flew a distance away and crashed itself on the surface.
NASA shared a picture of the crash site, which can be seen above, in artificial color. While much of the crash site is a single large crater, some outlying crash damage suggests some debris from the impact continued on for a distance. Perhaps we will someday see a similar image of the aftermath of crashing the Perseverance descent stage.