NASA Ingenuity Helicopter Continues to Defy Expectations

by Victoria Santiago

Last year, the first-ever helicopter landed on Mars. Since then, NASA’s Ingenuity has outperformed expectations in every way. The copter first landed on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021. In the year since then, it’s gone above and beyond what should’ve been possible.

The four-pound helicopter landed on the floor of the Jezero Crater last year. It came with NASA’s Perseverance rover, which is supposed to look for signs of life and collect samples. The space agency had other plans for the rover’s flying counterpart, though.

NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter Wasn’t Supposed To Fly Long

Soon after landing, the solar-powered chopper started a five-flight mission. Scientists wanted to see if powered flight was possible on Mars. They had their doubts, due to the Red Planet’s thin air. Those original five flights were all that NASA‘s Ingenuity was made to do.

Of course, that mission was successful. Thus, scientists granted the mission an extension. Since then, the chopper has been acting as a scout for the Mars rover. Not only that, but it has embarked on many more flights. As if finishing its mission wasn’t great enough, the chopper has already hit another milestone.

As of February 25, Ingenuity has officially flown 20 times. The fact that the chopper continues to fly is amazing. NASA couldn’t let this milestone go by without sharing information about it, of course. The space agency took to Twitter to share details of that 20th flight.

“Flight 20 was a success!” tweeted NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The lab, located in CA, manages the mission of the helicopter and the rover. “In its 130.3 seconds of flight, the #MarsHelicopter covered 391 meters [1,283 feet] at a speed of 4.4 meters per second [9.8 mph], bringing it closer to @NASAPersevere’s landing location.”

Exploring the Red Planet

There’s still much for NASA’s Ingenuity to do, and the Perseverance rover, too. For the first year, both of them spent most of their time exploring the areas around their touchdown zone. Now, they’re heading back towards their landing site, which is where the really exciting stuff happens.

The rover and chopper will spend their time exploring the Jezero Crater. It was thought that the crater, which is 28 miles wide, was originally a lake and a river delta. This was billions of years ago, of course. However, there could still be signs of life preserved in the crater.

This delta is the whole reason that the space agency chose that landing site for the rover and the chopper. Space reports that the spacecraft won’t reach the crater until later this spring, though.

NASA‘s Ingenuity will be there every step of the way, helping out its rover counterpart. As they trek towards the crater, the chopper will take airborne pictures that allow the rover’s handlers to choose the safest route.