Before its demise, NASA’s Mars helicopter captured a glorious aerial view (Image Credit: Mashable)
In the aftermath of a “rough” landing during its 72nd flight, the small experimental chopper was left with at least one severely broken rotor, a tip potentially snapped off after crashing into the rocky ground. Yet on one of Ingenuity’s final flights, flight 70, the NASA craft took in the scene you see below.
It’s a vista of sprawling sand dunes. In the distance are rock-strewn ridges and mountains. And in the upper left corner you can spot the end of a helicopter leg.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU / MSSS
Ingenuity snapped this image from some 39 feet (12 meters) above the ground on Dec. 22, 2023. Its final flight would be less than a month later.
It turns out those picturesque, flowing Martian dunes were likely the cause of Ingenuity’s demise. The helicopter navigated by using software to track the movement of objects, like rocks, below. But the sandy terrain was largely “featureless,” the space agency explained.
“That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined”
Still, the Ingenuity mission vastly overachieved over nearly three years of extraterrestrial flight. It became the first craft to ever make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. NASA engineers initially hoped the demonstration craft, with four-foot-long rotors, might prove flight was possible on Mars, perhaps flying five times. But it flew 72 times.
It was a scout. And a planetary explorer. The future exploration of Mars — and search for past Martian life — will almost certainly involve future aerial craft, and have Ingenuity to thank. After all, this persevering craft proved that flight on Mars, a world with a profoundly thin atmosphere, was possible.
“That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best — make the impossible, possible,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said when announcing that Ingenuity had taken its final flight.