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SYFY WIRE Perseverance

Rock out to NASA's audio from the Mars Perseverance rover going for a dusty Martian drive

By Benjamin Bullard
Perseverance First Drive

Already in its short time on the Red Planet, the Mars Perseverance rover has given us Earthlings our first sounds of the Martian wind and and our first glimpse of an extraterrestrial dust devil. We’ve even seen Perseverance in wheel-spinning action, taking a plucky first poke around its landing site.

Now, thanks to new audio from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), we're also finding out what it sounds like as Perseverance lumbers across the rock-strewn, craggy Martian terrain. NASA has just uploaded a pair of audio files to SoundCloud; one is a lengthy 16-minute soundtrack of bangs, bumps, and peculiar rhythmic squeaking; the other is a shorter highlight reel that collects some of the more interesting noises that Perseverance is making as it slowly trudges near its current home base at the Octavia E. Butler landing site.

Check out the highlight reel below (but don’t get your hopes too high for the telltale sounds of little green men, women, or other alien beings):

With no flora or fauna and nary a companion to share its otherworldly journey, the soundtrack for Perseverance’s off-road trip is a lonely, desolate cacophony of metallic, mechanical sounds. But that’s to be expected from its consumer-grade microphone (seriously, reports that one of the two mics Perseverance is sporting is the same kind of off-the-shelf device anyone can buy here on Earth), as well as the rover’s six metal, individually-motorized wheels.

“A lot of people, when they see the images, don’t appreciate that the wheels are metal,” NASA JPL senior engineer and rover “driver” Vandi Verma observed in a NASA update. “When you’re driving with these wheels on rocks, it’s actually very noisy.”

“If I heard these sounds driving my car, I’d pull over and call for a tow,” added Dave Gruel, the lead engineer for Mars 2020’s EDL Camera and Microphone subsystem. “But if you take a minute to consider what you’re hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”

The sounds were captured from Perseverance’s short (but time-consuming) 90-foot trek taken on March 7 near the landing site. While the rover’s ultimate goal is to scout for evidence of microbial past life on Mars, Perseverance is still checking off a list of basic first tasks…before it sets off on its real task for good.

The rover just crossed off one of its biggest early milestones amid all that groundwork: choosing the right spot for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter — a diminutive drone with a 4-foot rotor-span — to take off and land. Ingenuity is currently set to take its maiden aerial voyage above the Martian planetscape next month. While we’ll probably just be left to guess at the kind of noises that’ll make, at least Ingenuity will be beaming back yet another new visual perspective of the Martian surface.