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It's over for the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars

Natasha Kumar By Natasha Kumar Jan26,2024

It's over for the helicopter Ingenuity on Mars

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NASA's Ingenuity helicopter will no longer fly above the surface of Mars.

Agence France-Presse

NASA has announced the end of a mission that exceeded all expectations: after almost three years on Mars, the small Ingenuity helicopter will no longer fly above the red planet, due to a problem during its 72nd flight.

What Ingenuity has accomplished goes far beyond what we thought possible, NASA boss Bill Nelson said in a video. The helicopter paved the way for future flights in our solar system.

In 2021, Ingenuity became the first powered aircraft to fly on another planet. He thus proved that it was possible to fly in Martian air, with a density equivalent to only 1% of that of the Earth's atmosphere.

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NASA's Perseverance rover captured this image of Ingenuity during its second flight. This is a still image from a video sequence captured by one of the rover's cameras.

The helicopter Originally was only supposed to take off five times, but given its very good performance, the mission was extended until today.

The accident occurred last week during the 72nd flight. The helicopter had reached an altitude of 12 meters, but communication was suddenly interrupted shortly before landing.

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It was finally able to be restored the next day, but the NASA teams could see, on images recovered a few days later, damage.

A photo taken by the helicopter itself was published Thursday , showing the shadow of one of its damaged rotor blades.

About 25 percent of the blade is missing, Teddy Tzanetos, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at a news conference.

We may never know what exactly happened, due to the temporary loss of data transmission at the end of the final flight, he said. He underlines. But our engineering judgment leads us to think that during the descent, a blade hit the surface of Mars.

The helicopter therefore no longer has the thrust necessary for flight. The cause of the communication interruption is still under investigation, but it could be linked to the impact itself, according to Tzanetos.

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Image captured by Ingenuity of its shadow on the Martian surface. The photo was taken during the first flight of a helicopter on April 19, 2021.

He said other blades were probably damaged, which NASA teams are still seeking to confirm.

Already, during its 71st flight, Ingenuity had to make an emergency landing, the space agency said. It was then operating on difficult terrain because it did not have much relief, a challenge for its autonomous navigation system, relying on landmarks on the ground.

The 72nd flight, scheduled to be short, was carried out under the same conditions.

Far from being sad, the announcement allowed us to salute all the accomplishments of the machine.

Ingenuity has completely shattered our exploration paradigm, adding a new aerial dimension, said Lori Glaze, director of planetary sciences at NASA.

Weighing only 1.8 kg, the helicopter looked more like a large drone.

In total, it traveled some 17 kilometers and flew up to an altitude of 24 meters. His cumulative flight time amounts to more than two hours.

He arrived on Mars in February 2021, with the rover Perseverance, whose mission is to search for traces of ancient microbial life on Mars.

Ingenuity was thus able to play the role of aerial scout to help its wheeled companion.

The latter is currently too far away to try to return visit the helicopter and photograph it up close, NASA said.

Since the rover serves as a relay to transmit data between Ingenuity and Earth, communication with the helicopter will be lost when Perseverance continues on its route.

Ingenuity's longevity is remarkable, knowing in particular that it had to survive the freezing Martian nights by warming itself thanks to solar panels which charged its batteries during the day.

The American space agency is already working on another flying machine project, as part of the Dragonfly mission (dragonfly in French), this time with the largest destination Saturn's moon, Titan.

Helicopters could also, in the future, help the exploration of Mars by humans, argued Teddy Tzanetos: No one should be surprised anymore if, in the future, the first astronauts, the first woman and the first man on the surface are surrounded by a fleet of aircraft, capturing these scenes.

Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my 1-800-268-7116

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