NASA Officials Stumped by Mystery Object Stuck to Mars Helicopter

by Lauren Boisvert
(Image Credit: NASA/Getty Images)

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter has something stuck on its foot, and NASA scientists and amateur sleuths alike are trying to figure out what it is. Seems like Ingenuity has taken off for its 33rd flight with toilet paper on its shoe. How embarrassing.

Jokes aside, there is something stuck on the helicopter. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Twitter page made note of the foreign object, which wasn’t visible during the helicopter’s 32nd flight. “We’re looking into a bit of debris that ended up on Ingenuity’s foot during its latest aerial commute,” the JPL wrote on Twitter, accompanying a clip from the navigation camera. “As shown in the GIF, it eventually came off and did not impact a successful Flight 33.”

Mars Helicopter Has Little Piece of Trash Stuck On Its Foot

According to the clip, the debris looks like a bit of plastic or fabric stuck to the foot of the helicopter. It’s possible this debris could actually be a piece of the Wright brothers’ first aircraft. NASA has previously stated that, tucked underneath Ingenuity’s solar panel, there’s a piece of fabric from Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first successful plane, which flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903. Could this memento have come loose somehow? It’s possible. But, there’s also much debris on Mars already from the numerous rover landings over the years.

The NASA and Jet Propulsion Laboratory teams came out with a statement about the debris. “All telemetry from the flight and a post-flight search and transfer are nominal and show no indication of vehicle damage,” the statement reads, “The Ingenuity and Perseverance Mars 2020 teams are working to discern the source of the debris.”

Whatever it is, it seems to have caused no issues for Ingenuity, which made a successful 33rd flight over Mars.

Mars is Littered With Waste and Debris Due to Human Exploration

Since 1971, humans have been conducting exploratory missions to Mars. Some land successfully but last only 20 seconds, like Mars 3, the first mission. Curiosity, on the other hand, managed to last 8 years after its expiration date and is still going today. Opportunity lasted for 15 Earth years itself until a dust storm cut off communications in 2018.

Overall, there’s a lot of stuff on Mars. In August of this year, Perseverance spotted a tangled piece of netting or parachute from its landing. Curiosity and Opportunity have also found pieces of their landing gear jettisoned in 2012 and 2005 respectively. This sparked a conversation on how much debris we’re leaving behind on Mars.

According to Cagri Kilic, a postdoctoral research fellow in robotics at West Virginia University, there’s about 15,694 pounds of human debris on Mars. How does this affect future missions? Could the rovers’ samples be contaminated? NASA is trying to figure that out by checking and documenting all the samples Perseverance collects and monitoring them for debris. Overall, this is definitely an issue worth solving. Mars has an important place in our Solar System, and it doesn’t deserve to be trashed.