After a historic three-year mission on Mars, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter encounters rotor damage during its 72nd flight, marking the end of its groundbreaking journey.
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, designed for only five flights, has concluded its remarkable three-year mission on Mars due to irreparable rotor damage sustained during its 72nd flight over the Red Planet. While still powered, recent images revealed damage to at least one rotor blade, rendering the helicopter unable to fly again, as confirmed by NASA on Thursday.
Ingenuity, an autonomous 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) helicopter, initially landed alongside NASA’s Perseverance rover in Mars’ Jezero Crater in February 2021. Originally conceived as a technology demonstration, the helicopter surpassed expectations, proving flight viability in Mars’ ultra-thin atmosphere (about 1% of Earth’s atmospheric volume). Beyond its intended five flights, Ingenuity served as an aerial scout for Perseverance, completing an impressive 72 flights over three years and accumulating approximately 129 minutes of flight time.
The final flight, ending dramatically on Jan. 18, saw Ingenuity lose communication during a planned descent from 40 feet (12 meters) over Mars. An emergency landing ensued, and while communication was restored the next day, subsequent images unveiled irreparable rotor damage, marking the end of Ingenuity’s extended mission.
Ingenuity’s legacy, as the first aircraft on an alien planet, has already paved the way for future missions. Plans include deploying two similar helicopters to Mars, potentially aiding in the retrieval of rock samples collected by Perseverance. These helicopters may play a crucial role in flying the samples to a waiting rocket for eventual return to Earth.
Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s project manager at NASA, reflected on the historic mission, stating that the first Mars helicopter has left an indelible mark on the future of space exploration, inspiring fleets of aircraft on Mars and other worlds for decades to come.