Monday, March 1, 2021

There Was a Hidden Message in Mars Perseverance's Parachute

Did you notice the odd coloring on the parachute that Perseverance used to land on Mars?  Perhaps in this video?  I noticed the parachute didn't look like a typical alternating red and white segment pattern but didn't think much about it. 

Because I don't have a Twitter account and don't live on the app full time, I didn't notice that apparently NASA officials said it contained a hidden message written in a code.  Allen Chen, the entry, descent, and landing lead for Perseverance, dared the public to figure the message out during a press conference last Monday.  Challenge the Internet nerds?
Internet sleuths cracked the message within hours. The red and white pattern spelled out “Dare Mighty Things” in concentric rings. The saying is the Perseverance team’s motto, and it is also emblazoned on the walls of Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission team’s Southern California headquarters.

The parachute’s outer ring appears to translate to coordinates for JPL: 34°11’58” N 118°10’31” W.

There's a long history of leaving messages behind.  As Allen Chen said, “People can’t resist putting a little personal touch in their work,” Chen said. “But the vast majority of these will never be known — even by me.” 
The Curiosity rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2012, had tiny holes dotted in its hollow aluminum wheels to allow Mars pebbles caught inside to escape.

Those holes read “JPL” in Morse code. So when Curiosity roved the surface, “JPL” was stamped in Morse code on the Martian soil (though it was erased shortly after by the Martian wind).
It's really not uncommon to find engineers leaving some sort of personalization in their work, like their initials, or some sort of logo.  I've seen them on things from printed circuit boards to inside integrated circuits and on spacecraft before flight.  

I'd explain the code, but I don't want to ruin it for you.


  1. First time I ran into hidden messages, me and the guys would ride our bikes to Speken's junk yard bringing back broken Briggs 3 1/2hp and 5hp from the aluminum pile. We'd fix them and bring them to Tote Gote sales and get 10-20$ per engine, and leave funny hand lettered messages underneath the shrouds to insult anyone who took them apart. I know we were just ornery boys. Tote Gote Bob drove hard bargains for sure. It seemed like rocket science back then.

  2. It's human nature to do a "Kilroy Was Here" message when and where possible.

  3. Inside the baggage pit of airliners when the liner is removed. Also in the E&E compartment. Quite the collection.

  4. Back in the very late 1980's, at a major aerospace and defense company, we had a Failure Analysis Lab where the sole individual who worked there in part "dissected" integrated circuits. He had some micrographs of some he had found and maybe others he had been given. I remember one of those was a little character etched into the die that looked similar to The General Auto Insurance "mascot". He had some of those that were on the web site linked in the post.

  5. My wife worked on Spitzer. They put a chip with photos and messages on it. She put a picture of a colleague who had passed away on it, and added a picture of his cat. So there were photos of a bunch of people and one cat. I said if aliens ever found it, they would assume the humans were slaves and the one cat ruled them. Not too far from the truth.

  6. When I was working in after market repair of gas pump electronics, it would sometimes happen that the field techs would transfer bad components into one console or board that would be sent in under warranty. To save on shipping, I'm sure. I began marking parts with a specific pattern of small scratches which did not appear to mean anything, even if noticed. But they did.