NASA’s record-setting Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has taken its final flight, the space agency confirmed on Thursday.
NASA said the aircraft has been put out of action by damage to one of its rotors sustained during its most recent flight on January 18.
Ingenuity arrived on Mars attached to Perseverance in 2021, touching down in a spectacular landing that was captured in incredibly clear video. A few months later, with a short hover test, the helicopter flew straight into the record books, becoming the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on a planet other than Earth.
It was no mean feat. Mars’ super-thin atmosphere makes it considerably harder for such aircraft to gain lift, and so much thought had to go into the design of the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter. And there was also the small matter of creating the technology to allow Ingenuity to fly between specified locations pretty much autonomously.
But the team nailed it, creating a design that sent Ingenuity on a wild adventure lasting 72 flights, way more than the originally planned five.
Its unexpected longevity enabled it to start assisting the Perseverance rover. It did this by using its onboard camera to find safe routes for the rover and also by identifying areas of interest for Perseverance to explore as it searched for evidence of ancient microbial life on the planet.
Sadly, however, an apparently rough landing a few days ago caused irreparable damage to one of the helicopter’s rotors, preventing it from getting airborne again.
Soon after delivering the news of Ingenuity’s demise, NASA shared a short video (top) telling the story of the impressive helicopter while also highlighting its legacy.
One of the members of the Ingenuity mission team commented in the video: “It’s been a remarkable journey and I think a highlight of all of our lives to have been a part of it,” while another said, “Of course, there’s a little sadness that, ‘Oh no, it’s over.’ It’s kind of the end of an era, but it’s also the beginning of an era.”
Indeed, Ingenuity has already inspired NASA engineers to get to work on a more advanced version of the aircraft for future Mars missions. Ingenuity may not be the best helicopter to ever fly on Mars, but that will only be because of its own extraordinary achievement.
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