National Aeronautics and Space Administration Logo
Follow this link to skip to the main content NASA Banner
Solar System Exploration
MSL's Parachute Flapping in the Wind
MSL's Parachute Flapping in the Wind (click to enlarge)

MSL's Parachute Flapping in the Wind
Date: 3 Apr 2013

This sequence of seven images from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows wind-caused changes in the parachute of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft as the chute lay on the Martian ground during months after its use in safe landing of the Curiosity rover.

The parachute decelerated Curiosity's descent through the Martian atmosphere on 5 Aug. 2012 (PST; 6 Aug. UTC). HiRISE acquired these images on seven dates from 12 Aug. 2012, to 13 Jan. 2013. Each image's date and HiRISE catalog number are superimposed at the bottom of the image. The parachute canopy is the bright shape in the lower half of each image. Suspension lines still attach it to the spacecraft's back shell, which is the bright shape in the upper half of each image. The length of the parachute, including the lines, is about 165 feet (50 m).

This sequence shows distinct changes in the parachute. In the first four images, there are only subtle changes, perhaps explained by differences in viewing and illumination geometry. Sometime between 8 Sept. 2012, (the fourth image) and 30 Nov. 2012, (the fifth image) there was a major change in which the parachute extension to the southeast (lower right) was moved inward, so the parachute covers a smaller area. In the same time interval some of the dark ejecta around the back shell brightened, perhaps from deposition of airborne dust. Another change happened between 16 Dec. 2012, (the sixth image) and 13 Jan. 2013, (the final image) when the parachute shifted a bit to the southeast. This type of motion may kick off dust and keep parachutes on the surface bright, to help explain why the parachute from Viking 1, which landed on Mars in 1976, remains detectable (as seen at

The Mars Science Laboratory parachute is the largest ever used for a Mars landing. When fully open during descent through the atmosphere, it had a diameter of about 15.5 m (51 feet). A gap between the white and orange-hued sections prevented the chute from being torn during descent. You can see a duplicate of the parachute inflated during testing at and see the opened parachute during the actual descent of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft at A color image of the parachute on the Martian ground is at A stereo image of it is at .

HiRISE is one of six instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates the orbiter's HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Science Laboratory projects for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Last Update: 3 Apr 2013 (AMB)

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona

Awards and Recognition   Solar System Exploration Roadmap   Contact Us   Site Map   Print This Page
NASA Official: Kristen Erickson
Advisory: Dr. James Green, Director of Planetary Science
Outreach Manager: Alice Wessen
Curator/Editor: Phil Davis
Science Writers: Courtney O'Connor and Bill Dunford
Producer: Greg Baerg
Webmaster: David Martin
> NASA Science Mission Directorate
> Budgets, Strategic Plans and Accountability Reports
> Equal Employment Opportunity Data
   Posted Pursuant to the No Fear Act
> Information-Dissemination Policies and Inventories
> Freedom of Information Act
> Privacy Policy & Important Notices
> Inspector General Hotline
> Office of the Inspector General
> NASA Communications Policy
> NASA Advisory Council
> Open Government at NASA
Last Updated: 3 Apr 2013