Internet sleuths have found a hidden message secreted in the parachute that helped the Perseverance rover land on Mars last week. If you're raising a skeptical eyebrow right now, hold your horses. NASA does have precedence for this, and the message is a well-known NASA motto.
No, it's not "We come in peace."
Various Reddit and Twitter users have declared the discovery of the phrase "Dare mighty things" encoded in the red and white pattern on the parachute.
According to the Guardian, during a live stream discussing the landing last week, a NASA commentator said: “Sometimes we leave messages in our work for others to find. So we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work.” So, get to work they did.
Initially, people thought the pattern on the parachute looked deliberate, as it's not symmetrical. On closer inspection, it appears if the red represents 1 and the white represents 0, and the three concentric circles seen in the pattern spell out the three words "Dare mighty things".
There are a couple of ways people have worked this out, but at its most simple, by splitting these 1s and 0s into groups of 10 and adding 64 you get the computer ASCII code. This is a standard data-transmission code used to represent text data like letters, numbers, and punctuation used by personal computers – in this case, a letter.
For example, seven white stripes, one red stripe, two white could be read as 0000000100, the binary for 4. Adding 64 to 4 gives you 68, the ASCII code for D, the start of "Dare".
The phrase is used as a motto by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is managing the Mars rover mission, and is emblazoned on the walls of the mission control room at the facility. It was also used in the promotional videos for the Curiosity rover's launch to Mars in 2011.
In fact, it's come up a lot in reference to Perseverance, like in the clip above of JPL systems engineer on the Entry, Descent, and Landing systems, Allen Chen, describing working on the mission.
Here is the rover – or the Twitter personification of it – declaring it on February 19, the day after landing on Mars.
Adding fuel to the findings is the final outer ring pattern of the parachute, thought by the online detectives to represent 34°11'58.0"N 118°10'31.0"W, the geographical coordinates for JPL in La Cañada Flintridge, California.
Well, congrats, Internet sleuths, you were right. Here is chief engineer for Perseverance, Adam Steltnzer, confirming the Easter egg.
This isn't the first time NASA has snuck a message or a piece of memorabilia onto a rover. Metal from the wreckage of the Twin Towers on 9/11 went to Mars on Opportunity and Spirit, while Spirit also carried a memorial plaque to the seven crew members of the Space Shutte Columbia who died when the shuttle disintegrated on reentry to Earth in 2003.
Amongst the other "hidden gems" hitching a ride on Perseverance is a nod to the COVID pandemic that has swept the world. A memorial plaque bears the symbol of the Rod of Asclepius – the ancient Greek symbol of healing and medicine – to commemorate the virus's impact that could have set the mission off course, and to pay tribute to "the perseverance of healthcare workers around the world."
[H/T: The Guardian]