We’ve long known that the lovable brainiacs over at JPL and NASA like to hide Easter Eggs and messages in their machines; we’ve already discussed a bunch in the new Perseverance robotic rover. Yesterday, we saw some incredible footage from cameras on the spacecraft system as it landed, including a camera that was looking up at the parachute as it deployed.
The parachute had an interesting asymmetric pattern that I assumed was to help visually orient it to observers on Earth, which may be true, but there was so much more to it. It was all a code.
In case you’ve yet to see the landing videos from Perseverance as it entered the Martian atmosphere, deployed its parachute and skycrane and landed, it’s absolutely worth seeing. Here, you can use this copy:
The parachute deploys about 15 seconds into the video, and you get a good look at the pattern:
A NASA spokesperson dropped a tiny hint that there may be a secret message hidden somewhere, and that, plus the novel and very specific-looking patterning on the parachute was all it took for the internet’s powerful nerdbrains to leap into squishy action.
A Twitter user with a handle that suggests both tech-savviness and Frenchness, @FrenchTech_paf, seems to have been the first to crack the code:
The parachute has the phrase “DARE MIGHTY THINGS” encoded into the rings, of which there appear to be four. The phrase is a motto of the Perseverance team, and can be seen on the walls of the control room:
The code is done with the red panels reading as a “1" and the white panels reading as a “0.” It’s a 10-bit pattern that equates to the alphabet in simple numerical order, where A=1 and so on.
It’s sort of reminiscent of Cadillac’s Dare Greatly campaign, only, you know, less of a meaningless ad campaign.
Here’s another visual diagram of the parachute code; if you look into the center, you can see the “4" which is “D,” and then go clockwise to the “1" for “A” and so on:
After “DARE” you jump to the next ring (13, M) and continue from there.
The motto is encoded in the first three rings, from the center out, reading clockwise. The outermost ring has a numeric code:
Those numbers appear to be coordinates, 34°11'58" N 118°10'31" W, which, if you stick them in your handy mapping software of choice, point you here:
Yes, it’s the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Perseverance’s home, making the parachute the equivalent of your mom writing your name and address on your underwear when you go to camp.
It’s amazing that the JPL/NASA team can build a roving robot with a helicopter on it, shoot it on a rocket to Mars, get it to land exactly where they want it to, and still somehow have time to do fun goofy stuff like this.
JPL is one of the few things in life I never stop being delighted by.