Gentle wind and a robotic hum might not sound like much to celebrate but those were the first sounds ever recorded on Mars taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover after landing on another world.
NASA released the first few recordings taken by the rover that landed on the red planet Thursday following a 300-million-mile journey. For the first time NASA engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory equipped a Martian robot with several microphones.
Dave Gruel, Perseverance entry, descent and landing camera lead, explained that it became extra important to capture the simple sounds of Mars where no human has set foot, yet, after a conversation with a woman following a tour of JPL.
Gruel said the woman was especially excited to learn of the microphones on the Mars 2020 mission when Gruel asked why, she explained she tried to explain the wonder of seeing Mars images from previous landings to her visually impaired sister.
“While she tries to describe them to her, she felt that she just can’t quite capture that same sense of amazement that she gets when she can see them visually, and that by actually getting a microphone on the surface of Mars,” Gruel recalled from the conversation. “The hope was that she’d be able to experience things on Mars the same way that she was when she actually looked at them.”
Inspired by that conversation, Gruel said the rover’s team worked super hard to make sure the microphone on the rover worked. Another microphone designed to capture the perilous journey from 12,500 mph to 1.5 mph during the landing did not successfully record but another mic is already sending back sounds from the Jezero Crater where Perseverance now sits.
“We can sit here now and actually tell you that we have recorded sound from the surface of Mars,” Gruel said after playing one of those recordings.
Gruel said he hopes the woman he met at JPL was listening Monday.
“I wish I had actually captured that individual’s name, I would love to reach out to her now and say, ‘We’ve done it. I hope your sister is enjoying it,’” Gruel said.
The microphones will continue to capture the soundtrack of Mars, including as the rover’s instruments get to work, as long as the microphones continue to work. However, the rover’s teams don’t know how long the equipment will continue to work on Mars since this has never been done before.
A mic on the rover will hopefully record as one of its instruments zaps rocks and even as the six wheels start rolling through the ancient lake bed.
The science instrument teams behind MOXIE, an instrument designed to create oxygen, has even requested the microphones be turned on during their operations on the red planet, according to Perseverance imaging scientist and instrument operations team chief Justin Maki.
“We actually have gotten requests from instrument teams wanting to turn on the microphone to observe their instrument functioning,” Maki said. “MOXIE is one of the instruments, it’s going to be generating oxygen has compressors and scroll pumps and things. They actually wanted want us to use the microphones to do diagnostic acoustic measurements.”
Maki said he believes including a microphone on future mission could become standard practice. Similar to hearing something wrong with mechanics on Earth, NASA teams could do the same on mars.
”Everybody knows that when you hear something squeaking, it’s diagnostic, maybe you need to check it out,” Maki said.
Perseverance deputy project manager Matt Wallace, who first proposed incorporating audio recording on the rover, said he hopes the mics continue to survive the Martian environment.
“I hope it does survive long enough so that we can hear those wheels crunch over the surface of the planet because I think we would hear it. And I think it’d be great to hear that big rotary percussive jackhammer drill, taking that first sample of a rock on Mars,” Wallace said. “I’m hopeful that that our little microphone will hang in there for some of those events.”
Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com space newsletter, sent every Wednesday afternoon.