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NASA’s Mars helicopter aces milestone 50th flight

NASA’s plucky Ingenuity helicopter has completed its 50th flight on Mars.

To mark the special occasion, NASA posted a video (top) showing some of the key moments of Ingenuity’s mission so far.

Ingenuity completed its 50th flight on Thursday, April 13, JPL announced in a post on its website.

The trip saw the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall helicopter travel more than 1,057 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds. It also achieved a new altitude record of 59 feet (18 meters) before touching down near the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) Belva Crater.

The feat is remarkable on a number of fronts. Ingenuity is the only aircraft ever to have flown on another planet, and when it arrived on Mars two years ago it was only expected to take a maximum of five flights.

But its impressive ability to handle the thin Martian atmosphere and harsh climate inspired Ingenuity’s team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to push the device higher, faster, and further in subsequent flights, and even use the aircraft and its on-board camera to assist Perseverance, the ground-based rover that arrived on Mars with Ingenuity in 2021.

With its work far from done, the JPL team is now eyeing another repositioning flight for Ingenuity before exploring the Fall River Pass region of Jezero Crater, a dried lake bed where Perseverance is searching for evidence of ancient life.

“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments well after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to pursue and learn from the flight operations of the first aircraft on another world,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

NASA’s helicopter has now flown for more than 89 minutes and covered more than 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers). Its speediest flight reached 15 mph just a couple of weeks ago, while the furthest the aircraft has traveled in one mission is 2,325.8 feet (708.9 meters) in April 2022. Data gathered during its flights have helped the Perseverance team to map out the safest routes for the rover to take as it navigates the red planet’s challenging terrain.

But the team has revealed that some of Ingenuity’s components are beginning to show signs of wear, and it recognizes that every groundbreaking mission will eventually come to a close.

“We have come so far, and we want to go farther,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at JPL. “But we have known since the very beginning our time at Mars was limited, and every operational day is a blessing. Whether Ingenuity’s mission ends tomorrow, next week, or months from now is something no one can predict at present. What I can predict is that when it does, we’ll have one heck of a party.”

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Trevor Mogg
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