When NASA’s Perseverance rover made its daring descent to the Mars, you have noticed that its parachute bore an unusual arrangement of red & white chevrons.
That pattern, it turn-out, wasn’t random, but a hidden-code. Within 6 hours, internet sleuths had cracked-it, revealing a beautifully up-lifting message: “Dare Mighty Things“.
The phrase is used as the motto by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for years, taken from a speech delivered-by American president Theodore Rooseveltin 1899:
“Far better it’s to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered-by failure than to take rank with those poor spirits, who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray-twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”
The hidden message was first mentioned in the landing live-stream by NASA systems engineer Allen Chen, who commented, “In addition-to enabling incredible science, we hope our efforts & our engineering can inspire others. Sometimes, we leave messages in our work for others to seek out for that purpose. So, we invite you all to give it a shot & show your work.”
The first solution posted-online seems to have been-by IT student Abela Paf on Twitter. The message, he said, had been decoded-by him & his father, who identified, the chevrons were arranged in concentric rings that encoded a 10-bit pattern.
“Each binary number encodes, a position in the alphabet, starting at 1,” he explained. “For the word ‘mighty’, we just need to start counting 40 bits later & it would be correct.”
If the red-sections are 1s & the white-sections are 0s, the rings can-be broken down into blocks that represent numbers. Then you add 64. Therefore, the first letter in the code is 0000000100, which provides you the number 4. Add 64 to give 68, the ASCII code for the capital letter D.
That explains, the inner 3 rings. The outer ring, on the other hand, displays letters & numbers: 34 11 58 N 118 10 31 W. These, posted to reddit by user tend0g, are the geographic coordinates for JPL – 34°11’58” N 118°10’31” W.
Chief Perseverance engineer, Adam Steltzner of NASA JPL confirmed the solution.
That is not Perseverance’s only secret message, though.
The rays of the Sun on the placard containing a chip bearing names & messages from Earthlings are in Morse code, spelling-out the phrase “Explore As One“. And tucked-away on a plate on its chassis is a family portrait of all NASA’s Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, Perseverance & Ingenuity.
Curiosity is not without secrets, either. A pattern in the rover’s wheels is additionally a Morse code, spelling-out JPL. Indeed, sending coded-messages to space on our exploration vessels is something of a tradition.
As Allen Chen noted to The Verge, Perseverance might be riddled-with many more secrets.
“People cannot resist putting a tittle personal touch in their work,” he said. “But the vast majority of these will never be known, even by me.”