We analyze English vocabulary from the landing of the Perseverance rover

5 min


Two weeks ago, the whole world watched the successful landing of the Perseverance robot on the surface of Mars, and there were orders of magnitude more talk about space. The news feed has stirred up discussions on social networks and blogs – more and more people want to talk about space exploration, opportunities and dangers.

Therefore, we decided to parse the vocabulary and features from the video of the landing of the rover. And suddenly they pulled off some interesting nuances of the language. Go!

Rover landing and English vocabulary

To get started, watch the video with the final stage of the rover’s flight and its landing on the surface of Mars.

We will not analyze the entire two-hour live broadcast, but only take a three-minute video:

Aviation vocabulary and interesting phraseological units

We are starting the straighten up and fly right maneuver where the spacecraft will jettison the entry balance masses in preparation for parachute deploy and to roll over to give the radar a better look at the ground.

We are embarking on a serious maneuver in which the aircraft will drop ballast in preparation for the deployment of the parachute and turn around to give the radar a better view of the surface.

You should immediately pay attention to the style of speech. It’s pretty heavyweight and sounds more like an air force conversation format. The vocabulary also hints at this.

Jettison – Throw something off an aircraft.

The word is specific and is used mainly in aviation. In ordinary vocabulary, it is encountered quite rarely and in the absolute majority with a figurative meaning “to get rid of any serious obligations.”

If you closed a mortgage – the word “jettison” will be very appropriate.

Plus, already in the first sentence we got an interesting phraseological unit:

Straighten up and fly right – get ready, be serious, act according to plan.

The phrase is very figurative, so let’s explain its logic. During flight, the bird moves along the shortest path to the target. In order to fly faster, she should not lay turns and be distracted. Direct flight only.

Interestingly, the phrase became an idiom thanks to jazz performer Nat King Cole, the first popular black entertainer in the United States. In 1944, he released the single “Straighten up and fly right”, which gained immense popularity.

In the context of the video, the phrase “Straighten up and fly right” can be taken in two ways. This is both a “serious, dangerous maneuver” and a “planned maneuver without risk.”

Difference between speed and velocity

… We are seeing significant deceleration in the velocity

… we are seeing a significant decrease in speed

There is a very interesting difference between ordinary everyday vocabulary and scientific vocabulary. Both speed and velocity are velocity. But the difference in their use is fundamental.

“Speed” is a scalar and “velocity” is a vector. That is, the scalar velocity does not have a specific direction of motion, while the vector velocity does.

Actually, this is precisely why the “velocity” was used for the spacecraft, meaning the velocity towards the surface. And for the phrase “speed of light” they use “speed of light”, because there is no vector here.

By the way, the very phrase “deceleration in the velocity” is a bit redundant. After all, “deceleration” is already “speed reduction, deceleration.” Yes, you can say that too, but most students only know its antonym – “acceleration” (acceleration). Scientists simply additionally emphasized that we are talking about the speed of landing, and not about some abstract value.

Absolute and relative altitude

Our current velocity is 450 meters per second and an altitude of about 12 kilometers from the surface of Mars.

The current speed is 450 meters per second and an altitude of about 12 kilometers from the surface of Mars.

We figured out the speed, but now there is an interesting nuance with the height. The difference between the used “altitude” and the everyday “height” is also significant and fundamental.

Altitude is absolute height and height is relative.

Absolute altitude is the altitude above sea level. The height of a mountain is exactly “altitude”, although it is permissible to use “height” in colloquial speech without scientific connotation. But the height of the cabinet in the room is only “height”, because it does not depend on the height above sea level this cabinet is located.

In aviation, the concepts of “altitude” and “height” are fundamentally different. The word “Altitude” denotes barometric altitude – it also indicates the altitude above sea level. And “height” means the actual distance to the ground.

That is, if the plane flies over a mountain with a height of 2061 m, and its absolute altitude is 2100 m at this moment, then “Leverage yourself, you moron!”

There is no sea level on Mars as such, but barometer readings were used to determine the altitude. Therefore, the height is still absolute.

Free fall features

Perseverance has now slowed to subsonic speed and the heat shield has been separated.

Perseverance slowed down to subsonic speed and the heat shield detached.

There are several features here. First, grammar. Two tenses were used in one sentence – Present Perfect and Present Perfect Passive. In translation into Russian, there is practically no difference between them, but in English there is a strong causal relationship.

Perseverance slowed down to subsonic speed and [из-за этого] the heat shield is detached.

Present Perfect indicates a fact – the rover has slowed down. And the liability in the second part here is a consequence of this fact.

True, such constructions are quite difficult to perceive and are normally perceived only in formal speech – for example, in the dialogue of scientists. In order not to get confused in times, it is better to speak easier in everyday life.

Insight. Have you ever wondered why Sonic the Hedgehog from a series of games of the same name for consoles and PCs is called that way? And all because he knows how to run at the speed of sound.

Sonic speed is the speed of sound. Or “Sonic’s speed” in the context of the game.

– How old did you know that?

– In the “now” years.

There is a contact!

During the landing and touching the rover with the surface of Mars, the operator pronounces the phrase: “Tango Delta”. He was later posted on NASA’s official Twitter account.

What does tango have to do with it? The point is that it is a phonetic alphabet. So in aviation and military affairs, individual letter and number combinations are pronounced to ensure their correct understanding by the interlocutor.

For example, to say CGP-1, you say “Charlie, Golf, Papa, Unaone”.

“Tango Delta” are the letters TD. And here, in turn, the word “touchdown” is encrypted. In aviation and astronautics, this word means “contact, landing, landing”.

Immediately after “Tango Delta” the operator voiced the very word “touchdown”.

Tango Delta, Touchdown confirmed. Perseverance safely on the surface of Mars ready to begin seeking the signs of past life.

Tango Delta. Landing confirmed. Perseverance is safe [приземлился] to the surface of Mars and is ready to start looking for signs of past life.

Under the spoiler there is a picture with the designation of all letters of the phonetic Latin alphabet.

We wrote more about the phonetic alphabet in the article “Phonetic Alphabet: How an Aviation Solution Can Help Pass a Login by Phone“.

If you are interested in the space theme, then we will prepare more materials about English and space. Not only on current news feeds, but also on more serious topics. And if you want to improve your English in a comprehensive manner, sign up for a trial lesson now. And write in the comments what materials about space English you would like to read.

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