NASA captured a close-up of its Ingenuity Mars helicopter nearly two years after its first of 50 flights to the Red Planet.
The US space agency shared that its 4-pound helicopter looked “very nice” – albeit “a little dustier” – as it perched on the rocky surface.
Ingenuity completed its historic 50th flight on April 13, traveling 1,057.09 feet (322.2 m) in just under three minutes.
It reached a record altitude of 59 feet (18 m) before descending into the Red Planet’s Belva Crater, which spans about 800 meters.
The photograph was taken by NASA’s Perseverance rover which also touched down on Mars two years ago on a mission to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Pictured: NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made its 50th flight on April 13, lasting three minutes
This week, the team tweeted, “I got a closer look at the #MarsHelicopter than I’ve had in quite a while.” Ingenuity is a bit dustier since it first flew two years ago today (!!) – but it looks great after 50 flights!
QUICK FACTS ABOUT INGENUITY:
Launch: July 30, 2020 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida US
Landed: February 18, 2021 at Jezero Crater, Mars
Stain: It was initially a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars. But it has since turned into a demonstration of operations.
5Oth flight: April 13, 2023 – covering 1,057.09 feet (322.2 m) in just under three minutes
The groundbreaking helicopter made history on April 19, 2021 by making the first flight to another world, launching 10 feet into the sky.
NASA originally thought Ingenuity would only fly five times, but now has 23 Earth months and 45 flights left beyond its expected lifespan.
As a result, the helicopter has become a central part of Mars exploration with a current flight time of 89 minutes, covering more than 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers).
Teddy Tzanetos, head of the ingenuity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), said: “When we first flew, we thought we would be incredibly lucky to achieve five flights.
“We have exceeded our planned cumulative flight time since the end of our technology demonstration by 1,250% and the planned distance flown by 2,214%.”
Cleverly designed by engineers, Ingenuity has the ability to make its own decisions in real time and is equipped with computers and navigation sensors.
It also features a solar panel above its rotor system, allowing the helicopter to recharge its six lithium-ion batteries and continue exploring.
During its two-year course, Ingenuity showed engineers just how useful airplanes can be in aiding planetary expeditions.
The helicopter has also been used to inspire the design of potential future Martian helicopters, at a time when space teams around the world are eager to head to the Red Planet.
The NASA helicopter is now 23 Earth months and 45 flights past its expected lifespan
Meanwhile, NASA’s Perseverance rover is looking to collect samples of Martian rock and sediment that can be analyzed by scientists on Earth.
This is expected to take place no earlier than 2033 and will mark another historic milestone for the first rocket ever launched from another planet.
In 2023, Ingenuity battled deep winter cold and regional dust events as it emerged from Jezero Crater.
Difficult conditions now await the helicopter, as it ventures into rough and unfamiliar terrain that poses a risk of potential hazards.
“We’re not in Martian Kansas anymore,” said Josh Anderson, Ingenuity Operations Manager at NASA JPL in Southern California.
The Perseverance and Ingenuity rover landed on the red planet two years ago
Pictured: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover taking a selfie above a rock nicknamed ‘Rochette’
“We fly over the dried up remnants of an ancient river filled with sand dunes, rocks and boulders, and surrounded by hills that could host us for lunch. And although we recently updated the onboard navigation software to help determine safe airfields, every flight is still a blow.
With Ingenuity battling the elements, NASA recognized that the mission ultimately had to come to an end.
The helicopter – appearing “a bit dustier” than before – also showed signs of wear and tear amid the fierce terrain.
It also suffered numerous power outages, including one that lasted two weeks in October 2021 due to the Red Planet’s position in space.
Mr Tzanetos added: “Whether Ingenuity’s mission ends tomorrow, next week or months from now is something no one can predict at this time.” What I can predict is that when it does, we’ll have one hell of a party.
MARCH: THE BASICS
Mars is the fourth planet from the sun, with a dusty, cold and “nearly dead” desert world with a very thin atmosphere.
Mars is also a dynamic planet with seasons, polar caps, canyons, extinct volcanoes, and evidence that it was even more active in the past.
A day on Mars lasts just over 24 hours and a year has 687 Earth days.
Facts and figures
Orbital period: 687 days
Area: 144.8 million km²
Distance from the Sun: 227.9 million km
Gravity: 3.721 m/s²
Ray: 3,389.5 km
Moons: Phobos, Deimos
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