Internet sleuths have cracked the code hidden in NASA’s Perseverance parachute

TORONTO —
Last week, the NASA’s new Mars rover, Perseverance, sailed down safely to the planet, a white and red parachute billowing out above the spacecraft carrying it.

But the parachute didn’t just help protect Perseverance — it also contained a hidden message.

The internet got its first look at the landing process and the parachute when NASA released a video of the rover’s descent on Monday. The parachute had a distinctive design, comprised of sections coloured in white and red in seemingly random segments.

However, NASA officials hinted at there being a code in the parachute.

“In addition to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts and our engineering can inspire others,” Allen Chen, the project’s Entry, Descent and Landing lead, said in a press conference Monday. “Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find for that purpose. So we invite you all to give it a shot, and show your work.”

Within hours, internet sleuths had cracked it.

The different sections of colour actually spell out “DARE MIGHTY THINGS”, the motto of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Each word is spelled out clockwise in a different ring moving outwards from the centre of the parachute.

Maxence Abela, an IT student at Epitech — also known as The Paris Graduate School of Digital Innovation — posted on Twitter that he and his father had figured out that the words were hidden in a 10-bit pattern in the four main rings on the parachute.

When they transformed the colours of red and white into binary code, those 10-bit strings of code corresponded to different letters in the alphabet, spelling out the three word slogan.

Scientist Emily Calandrelli posted a Tik Tok explaining Abela’s reasoning. She also mentioned that the last ring of the parachute contained numbers — the coordinates to JPL’s mission headquarters in southern California.

The coordinates were the last piece of the puzzle, discovered by internet sleuths on reddit, and also revealed by JPL’s Paul Ramirez on Twitter.

Chen tweeted that the idea to put the motto into the parachute colours was “the brain child” of JPL’s systems engineer Ian Clark.

Adam Stelzner, the chief engineer for the Perseverance team, confirmed Abela’s and the internet community’s work, posting a picture of the parachute with the words and the coordinates mapped out on top of the corresponding patterns.

“It looks like the internet has cracked the code in something like 6 hours!” he added in the tweet. “Oh internet is there anything you can’t do?”

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