Tough way to go out.


Last month, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter finally died after years of faithful service on Mars.

The spunky little chopper crashed on January 18, during what proved to be its 72nd and final flight. Initial photos taken by the derelict copter seemed to show catastrophic damage, at least in the shadow cast by a damaged blade.

And now, new images confirm that one of the helicopter’s rotor blades completely snapped off. The photos were taken by the space agency’s Perseverance rover, using its SuperCam instrument. They were beamed back to Earth on Sunday, and then assembled and processed by German design student Simeon Schmauß. The completed composite shows the broken-off blade lying in the sand to the left of Ingenuity, which Schmauß estimated to be some 50 feet away. A small divot marks where the rotor blade first hit the ground after breaking off.

Serial Overachiever

Detective work aside, the isolated photo of Ingenuity is a sad sight to see, a tiny chopper marooned on the Martian sands, shorn of its powers of flight. It’s a tragic end — but it went out like the champ that it always was.

After landing on Mars in February 2021, Ingenuity quickly made history as the first aircraft to perform a powered, controlled flight on another planet.

That’s no small feat, because the Red Planet’s atmosphere is far thinner than ours, meaning the chopper’s rotors had to spin at an absurd 2,500 revolutions per minute just to support its weight of a mere four pounds on Earth, and just 1.5 pounds on Mars.

And it would continue to impress, turning out to be not a one-trick pony but a tireless workhorse. Designed to fly for just 30 days, the helicopter went on to carry out flight missions for nearly three years, defying all expectations.

With those kinds of achievements under its belt, Ingenuity has set the benchmark high for future off-world flying machines, which will no doubt benefit from understanding what caused the little chopper to finally fail after all those years.

More on Mars: NASA Rover Spots Dead Mars Helicopter in Its “Final Resting Place”