Satellite News Network

Ingenuity team says goodbye to pioneering Mars helicopter

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially from a world away.

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter team convened one last time on Tuesday (April 16) to oversee a transmission from the little rotorcraft, the first robot ever to explore the skies of a world beyond Earth.

The meeting, in a control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, came nearly three months after Ingenuity’s 72nd and final flight. The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper damaged its rotors while landing that day, consigning it to a stationary existence from now on — but it lives still, as a weather station and technology testbed.

“With apologies to Dylan Thomas, Ingenuity will not be going gently into that good Martian night,” Josh Anderson, Ingenuity team lead at JPL, said in a statement.

“It is almost unbelievable that, after over 1,000 Martian days on the surface, 72 flights, and one rough landing, she still has something to give,” Anderson added. “And thanks to the dedication of this amazing team, not only did Ingenuity overachieve beyond our wildest dreams, but also it may teach us new lessons in the years to come.”

Related: NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity has flown its last flight after suffering rotor damage

Ingenuity landed with NASA’s life-hunting, sample-collecting Perseverance rover on the floor of the 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater in February 2021.

And Ingenuity just kept on flying, on an extended mission during which the helicopter served as a scout for Perseverance. Over the course of its 72 Mars flights, Ingenuity stayed aloft for a total of 129 minutes and covered 10.5 miles (17.0 km) of ground — more than 14 times farther than it was originally expected to go, according to NASA officials.

Zoomed-in view of NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter, captured by the SuperCam remote imager aboard the agency’s Perseverance rover on Feb. 25, 2024. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/edited by Steve Spaleta)

Ingenuity communicates with Earth via Perseverance, and the big rover will soon disappear over the horizon, leaving its little partner behind. The helicopter team met on Tuesday, before that happens, to eat some “Final Comms” chocolate cake and review a key transmission relayed via Perseverance and NASA’s Deep Space Network.

“The telemetry confirmed that a software update previously beamed up to Ingenuity was operating as expected,” NASA officials wrote in the same statement. “The new software contains commands that direct the helicopter to continue collecting data well after communications with the rover have ceased.”

Ingenuity will continue to wake up every day, activate its onboard computers and test its solar panels, batteries and electronics, NASA officials added. The chopper will also photograph the Martian surface and collect temperature data at its final landing site, a spot the team calls Valinor Hills.

“Ingenuity’s engineers and Mars scientists believe such long-term data collection could not only benefit future designers of aircraft and other vehicles for the Red Planet, but also provide a long-term perspective on Martian weather patterns and dust movement,” NASA officials wrote.

Ingenuity will continue this work for as long as it can — until something breaks, for example, or dust blocks its solar panels. The mission team believes the chopper’s memory can hold about 20 years’ worth of such data, so Ingenuity could be a valuable resource to Mars explorers years down the road.

This image, which shows the shadow of a damaged rotor on NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity, was taken after its 72nd and final flight on Jan. 18, 2024 on the Red Planet. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

“Whenever humanity revisits Valinor Hills — either with a rover, a new aircraft or future astronauts — Ingenuity will be waiting with her last gift of data, a final testament to the reason we dare mighty things,” Ingenuity Project Manager Teddy Tzanetos, also of JPL, said in the same statement. “Thank you, Ingenuity, for inspiring a small group of people to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds at the frontiers of space.”

The mission team also received a farewell message from Ingenuity during Tuesday’s gathering — one that they had sent to Perseverance on Monday (April 15) so the chopper could relay it back. This missive was sentimental rather than functional, featuring the names of people who had worked on Ingenuity’s mission over the years, NASA officials said.

Exit mobile version