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Mars helicopter Ingenuity powers through its 21st flight

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity continues to perform beyond all expectations, having recently completed its 21st flight. The tiny NASA helicopter was originally designed for just five flights, but to the delight of all it has shaken off dust storms and handled seasonal changes, and it is continuing to operate and explore the red planet from the air.

NASA announced that the helicopter had aced its most recent flight yesterday, on Friday, March 11. “#MarsHelicopter can’t be stopped!” NASA JPL wrote on Twitter. “Ingenuity successfully completed its 21st flight on the Red Planet. The small rotorcraft traveled 370 meters at a speed of 3.85 meters per second and stayed aloft for 129.2 seconds.”

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#MarsHelicopter can’t be stopped! Ingenuity successfully completed its 21st flight on the Red Planet. The small rotorcraft traveled 370 meters at a speed of 3.85 meters per second and stayed aloft for 129.2 seconds.

— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 11, 2022

Ingenuity is currently performing a series of flights to take it on a journey back to Perseverance. The helicopter had headed away from the rover in the last few months, exploring nearby areas of the Jezero crater. But now, it is on its way back so the pair can move on toward the Jezero delta. This is the site of an ancient river delta and is a particularly exciting area to explore. That’s because millions of years ago it would have had warm, shallow water, which is the ideal conditions for the formation of life. If there ever was life on Mars, the delta is an excellent place to look for evidence of it.

Additionally, the delta is handy to explore because the river that once ran there would have carried rocks from all over the region with it, and some of those rocks might have been deposited in the delta and still be there. That gives geologists the chance to see rock samples from all over the region without the rover having to travel to them. Although samples aren’t ideal when they are removed from their geological context, this is still an exciting opportunity to see a variety of rock types all in one location.

Ingenuity will be helping the Perseverance rover by scouting ahead and identifying driving routes that Perseverance can follow. This could potentially help Perseverance to drive both safer and faster, as obstacles can be identified and avoided ahead of time.

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