NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has been on Mars for almost two years, and the high-tech device is still good enough to fly.
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the NASA entity overseeing the latest Mars mission, which includes the Perseverance rover, tweeted a GIF (below) showing the view of Ingenuity as it landed on Wednesday, March 11th. January, buzzing over the surface of Mars.
During Ingenuity’s 39th flight, the plane stayed airborne for about 79 seconds. It flew a distance of 460 feet (140.25 meters) and reached an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) before returning to its launch site.
Ingenuity didn’t break any records or perform any special tasks during its last flight, but it confirmed to JPL operators that the brave machine is still in excellent condition and ready for further missions in support of the Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity and persistence spectacularly arrived on the Red Planet in February 2021, and the helicopter completed its first historic hover two months later in April, becoming the first aircraft to achieve powered, controlled flight on a planet other than Earth .
Its longest flight time is 169.5 seconds, achieved on Flight 12 in August 2021, while its longest flight to date is an impressive 708.9 meters (2,325 ft), achieved in April 2022. It has also flown at speeds of up to 12.3 mph (19.8 km/h) and up to 14 meters high on its numerous trips.
The plane was originally sent to Mars simply to test the viability of such a device in an atmosphere much thinner than Earth’s, meaning it faced a greater challenge getting airborne due to buoyancy there is more difficult to reach. But after making the first flight and several thereafter, the Ingenuity team began using the helicopter’s downward-facing camera to assist the ground-based Perseverance rover.
Ingenuity did this by capturing images of the terrain, allowing the rover team to plan safer and more efficient routes for their vehicle as it set out to explore areas of scientific interest.
NASA is now considering building a more advanced version of Ingenuity that could be used as part of the Mars Sample Return mission, which will seek to return dust and rock samples from Mars to Earth in the early 2030s.
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