China Releases Sound and Video of its Rover Landing

Remember the stunning video of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars? The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has now released similar video footage from its Zhurong rover, including the sounds recorded as it plummeted through the Martian atmosphere on its way to landing in Utopia Planitia. The CNSA also released sounds of the rover driving off the landing platform.

The footage from the rover’s landing on May 14, 2021 shows the parachute deployment, backshell separation, and a view from the lander as it approached the surface of Mars. Or as the CNSA put it in their press release, “descent process of the landing patrol.”

Interestingly, the parachute appears to have markings on it similar to Perseverance’s chute, which included a secret message in binary code, The message, “Dare Mighty Things” is a tagline of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and originally comes from a speech by 26th president of the US, Theodore Roosevelt.

The sounds from the surface of Zhurong driving off the lander were captured by its climate station, which primarily will be used to record wind sounds.

“The audio includes live sounds during the process of powering up the driving mechanism of the rover and starting to move, driving on a ramp, and driving onto the surface of Mars,” CNSA said. “The sound of the rover moving away mainly comes from the driving mechanism, the friction between the wheels and the ramp, and the friction between the wheels and the ground.”

The sounds are muffled, perhaps due to the weaker atmosphere on Mars compared to that on the Earth. It will be interesting to hear more sounds from Mars from Zhurong over the course of the three-month-long mission.

The photo shows the wheel tracks left behind by the Mars rover Zhurong. Credit: Xinhua and CNSA.

Perseverance had the first functional microphone on Mars. At least three previous Mars missions had microphones as part of their design. The first, which flew to Mars in 1999 aboard NASA’s Mars Polar Lander, but it crashed on the surface. A similar microphone was supposed to be part of the French space agency’s (CNES) Netlander mission, scheduled to launch in 2007, but the mission was canceled due to funding difficulties. The Phoenix lander, which touched down near Mars’ north pole in 2008, had a  microphone that was part of its descent imaging system.  However, just before the mission launched, engineers detected a potential electronics problem in the microphone that might affect other systems, and the mic was deactivated.

Also in the video is footage from the a remote Wifi camera that the rover had placed when still close to the landing platform. The Zhurong rover then returned to pose for a “family photo” with the lander.

A wireless camera took this ‘group photo’ of China’s Tianwen-1 lander and rover on Mars’ surface. Credit: Chinese Space Agency