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The Secret Message in the Parachute of Mars Rover Perseverance Decoded23.02.2021

Little can sneak past amateur codebreakers nowadays—moments after pictures of the Perseverance rover landing were posted online, Internet sleuths quickly discovered details that went unnoticed by casual onlookers.

Much of the public’s attention was drawn by the unusual pattern of red and white stripes that adorned the canopy of the parachute deployed by the landing rover. Online detectives quickly deduced they stripes make up a string of numbers that, assuming that red means one and white means zero, can be translated into letters. First, they have to be split into ten-digit chunks. Then, adding 64 gives you a number in the seven-bit ASCII code.

In ASCII, numbers from 0 to 127 represent specific characters, not only Latin alphabet letters but also numbers, punctuation marks, and other symbols. For example, the first letter of the decoded message, “D” comes from the digits 0000000100, plus the number 64. How? Well, the ten-digit string is binary for 4. Adding 64 gives us 68, which, if you look it up in an ASCII reference table, is the code for the letter “D.”

Using this algorithm on the entire canopy produces the message “Dare mighty things,” which, at first glance, resembles the popular saying “Fortune favors the bold.” The phrase, however, resonates particularly strongly with Americans, as it comes from an 1899 speech given by future president Theodore Roosevelt. In the address, Roosevelt sang the praises of those unafraid of adversity and those ready to work hard and make sacrifices.

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