NASA has announced that the Ingenuity helicopter has formally concluded its mission on Mars, following dozens of successful test flights during its three-year tenure on the planet.
The small helicopter, specially designed for flight in the Red Planet’s thin atmosphere, made history as the first aircraft to perform a powered, controlled flight on another planet.
Although initially planned as a technology demonstration that would only conduct five test flights, Ingenuity went on to perform a remarkable 72 flights, many of which provided useful aerial reconnaissance for the Perseverance rover in advance of its movement to areas of interest for potential study.
“It is bittersweet that I must announce Ingenuity… has taken its last flight on Mars,” Nelson said in a statement.
Characterizing the small aircraft as “the little helicopter that could,” Nelson said the helicopter sustained damage to one of its rotor blades while attempting a landing.
“At least one of its carbon fiber rotor blades was damaged,” Nelson said. “We’re investigating the possibility that the blade struck the ground.”
The damage occurred during a vertical flight the helicopter performed to determine its location several days ago, following an emergency landing during its previous flight.
Although the aircraft achieved a maximum altitude of 40 feet, hovering for a total of 4.5 seconds before beginning its descent, Ingenuity lost contact with Perseverance before reaching the ground. Several days later the rotor blade damage was revealed.
“What Ingenuity accomplished far exceeds what we thought possible,” Nelson said.
“Ingenuity demonstrated how flight can enhance operational missions, and it’s helping us in the search for life on Mars.”
Ingenuity’s first flight occurred on April 19, 2021, after arriving on the Red Planet earlier that year with the Perseverance rover.