GPS Coordinates Fly to Mars — JPL Seeks Extraterrestrial Communication Link - Inside GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems Engineering, Policy, and Design

GPS Coordinates Fly to Mars — JPL Seeks Extraterrestrial Communication Link

The parachute deployed during the descent of the Mars Perseverance rover carried a special message for anyone who happened to be looking up from the Red Planet’s surface on February 18, 2021. “Dare Mighty Things,” it spelled out in orange and white strips piecing out its 21-meter (70-foot) diameter, for the reading edification of any being or beings familiar with binary code. The parachute contained a further message, a space signature of sorts, signifying whence the interplanetary visitor came.

Systems engineer Ian Clark at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) had been entrusted with the parachute’s design and told to devise a special pattern in the fabric so other NASA flight engineers could tell how the parachute was oriented during descent. Clark took it upon himself to turn it into a secret message (“super fun,” he said), and only five other people were in the know.

The inner cabal leaked the news on February 22 that a code message had been broadcast via the parachute, and it only took space enthusiasts a few hours to work it out.

In the outermost rim of the parachute, Clark also digitally inscribed the GPS coordinates for a spot 10 meters in front of the door to JPL’s headquarters in Pasadena, Calif. Just so they (unspecified they) would know where to find him — and just who had sent this probe to their planet.

parachute right
Perseverance parachute encoded. Above, decoded. Courtesy JPL/NASA.

The inner message, “Dare Mighty Things,” is an excerpt from a speech, “Strenuous Life,” given by then-Governor of New York Theodore Roosevelt in April, 1899. The pertinent passage reads in full:

“Far better it is 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 neither victory nor defeat.”

Roosevelt went on to become the 26th President of the United States, 1901–1909.