On February 4, NASA's Perseverance rover captured a picture of its now defunct companion, the Ingenuity helicopter. The two men had spent nearly three Earth years scouring the Red Planet for signs of ancient life and advancing their aerial missions to Mars. The damaged Ingenuity helicopter has been there for just over two weeks.
[Related: RIP Mars Ingenuity, the ‘little helicopter that could.’]
The Perseverance Rover took the image at 1:05 p.m. global mean solar time, which shows the “little helicopter that could” sitting alone on a barren Martian sand dune in the Neretva Valley. Perseverance has moved away from its broken companion, possibility for the last time. The image was sent back to Earth and processed by visual design student Simeon Schmausswho sewed the six raw images from NASA in a panorama.
Zoom in on Ingenuity's final resting place among the undulating sands of Neretva Vallis.
Panorama in full resolution: https://t.co/jbDkOAM5bB
– Siméon Schmauß (@stim3on) February 5, 2024
On January 18, Ingenuity's rotors were damaged during its landing on what NASA called a “bland” area of the Martian landscape. Typically, the helicopter used rocks and other distinctive features of the Red Planet to help it navigate, but the drone didn't have many visual cues during its 72nd and final flight.
NASA confirmed that the rotocopter damaged at least one blade at the end of the flight. While he landed vertically and was still in communication with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), his flying days were officially over. JPL is still analyzing the damage.
On January 31, NASA hosted a livestreamed tribute to Ingenuity. “We couldn't be prouder or happier with how our little baby behaved,” Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity project manager. said during the event. “This has been a life’s mission for all of us. And I wanted to thank all the people here who gave up their weekends, their late nights. All the engineers, the aerodynamic scientists, the technicians who made this plane by hand.
Ingenuity first landed on Mars on February 18, 2021. In April, it became the first powered aircraft to take off from the surface of another planet. Ingenuity was initially scheduled to conduct five test flights with the Perseverance over 30 days. However, this four-pound helicopter continued to operate. It flew 14 times further than expected and had a total flight time of two hours. Ingenuity hovered above the rover acting as a scout, while Perseverance roamed the sands of Mars. It lasted about 33 times longer than NASA expected.
[Related: Name a better duo than NASA’s hard-working Mars rover and helicopter.]
Before Ingenuity's demise, the dynamic duo explored Jezero Crater on Mars. This site contains evidence of ancient bodies of water that may have supported life billions of years ago. Ingenuity worked by capturing aerial views of Mars that identified places Perseverance could explore further.
During the Live stream from January 31Tiffany Morgan, deputy director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program said that Ingenuity will have a lasting legacy for future aerial missions and has demonstrated how to use helicopters in missions to other planets
Thanks in part to the success of Ingenuity, NASA has proposed using two helicopters in a project Sample return mission to Mars. These small planes could help retrieve boxes of rock samples that the rover placed on the planet's surface. The orbiter for this mission is expected to launch in 2027 and the lander in 2028, with samples returned to Earth. from 2033.
Until then, Perseverance must go it alone.