When computer nerds are placed in command of one of humanity’s most ambitious scientific undertakings, you know there’s going to be some fun involved.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)—home of mission control for the Mars rovers Perseverance and Curiosity—takes advantage of the brilliance of their staff, and the fact that tens of millions of people tune in to watch their handiwork of landing craft on Mars, to sprinkle their missions with hidden puzzles and messages that need decoding.
If only the IRS were so playful!
In the video NASA recently released of Perseverance deploying its parachute, Director and Mission Lead Allen Chen announced that hidden within the strange white and orange shapes of the parachute canopy’s underside was a hidden message in binary code.
“So we invite you all to give it a shot and show your work,” Chen said, with “you all” in this instance referring to the entire internet user base.
Unsurprisingly, it took just six hours for people to decode the message hidden in the parachute, matching the variations in color to binary code, before translating that into English letters and numbers.
“Dare Mighty Things,” read the parachute, the motto of NASA’s JPL, with the outermost ring of the parachute containing the GPS coordinates for their facility in California.
“Oh internet, is there anything you can’t do?” wrote Chief Engineer for Perseverance Adam Steltzner in a tweet.
Taken from a Teddy Roosevelt speech in which he noted that “far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure,” the motto perfectly captures the spirit of the JPL, which undertakes many of NASA’s most ambitious projects.
Another jape on the current Mars mission has Sherlock Holmes’ fictional address—221B Baker Street—plastered along one of the lenses of the rover’s principal camera, known as the “Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals.” Can you see why?
Curiosity, the previous Mars rover, had the Morse code spelling of the JPL embedded into its wheels, effectively putting a librarian’s stamp on every square foot of Martian dust the rover passed over during its long stay on the Red Planet.