NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter officially ends its mission on Mars

After almost three years, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, which became the first spacecraft to fly past another world, has completed its mission. Agency officials confirmed on January 25 that the historic quadcopter had a damaged rotor blade and was no longer able to fly.

“Even though we knew this day was inevitable, it doesn’t make it any easier,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said during a news conference on the quadcopter’s status.

Many Ingenuity team members are already excitedly reflecting on the mission’s many accomplishments. “I don’t think a helicopter that has accomplished so much can top it,” says Howard Fajr Gripp, the mission’s chief pilot and engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. It’s okay to cry and be sad. ,

Ingenuity — Ginny to her friends — joins NASA’s car-sized rover Perseverance as it lands on Mars in February 2021 (SN: 2/17/21). A few months later, the tiny helicopter spun its rotor blades, climbed into the thin Martian atmosphere, climbed to a height of three meters and photographed Perseverance during its first test flight (SN: 4/19/21).

The aerial robot exceeded its initial expectations, flying several times within 30 days. The idea was to show that a flight to Mars, and then to Earth, is possible. Instead, Ingenuity completed a total of 72 flights, covering 14 times the planned distance and adding more than two hours to the total flight time. During its journey, the helicopter did more than just fly: it became part of a science mission (SN: 4/30/21). Ingenuity created 3D elevation maps of its surroundings, visited locations that could not be determined, and explored potential sites for the rover’s science observations.

This ingenuity helped scientists discover that, unlike on Earth, the speed of sound in Mars’ atmosphere depends on the pitch of the sound, likely due to its carbon dioxide-rich nature (SN: 4/11/22). Because it has demonstrated the ability to independently select landing sites, clear itself from dust storms, and take some stunning photos of the Martian landscape, often including its own shadow (SN: 4/19/22).

On January 19, NASA reported that Ingenuity briefly lost contact with the Perseverance rover during its 72nd flight. Although contact was soon restored, the small helicopter was damaged in the fall and was permanently grounded.

Teddy Zenatos, Ingenuity’s project manager, said there was a moment of sadness when the team first received photos confirming the damage to the helicopter. “But that was soon replaced by a sense of joy, pride and celebration that we enjoy.”

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