Ingenuity achieved the historic milestone of becoming the first aircraft to operate and take flight on another celestial body, with its inaugural liftoff occurring on April 19, 2021.
NASA‘s history-making Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has ended its historic mission on the Red Planet, surpassing all expectations and completing dozens more flights than initially planned. While the helicopter remains upright and in communication with ground controllers, imagery from its January 18 flight indicates damage to one or more rotor blades during landing, rendering it incapable of further flight.
Originally designed for a technology demonstration with a goal of performing up to five experimental test flights over 30 days, Ingenuity defied expectations by operating on the Martian surface for nearly three years. It executed an impressive 72 flights, covering more than 14 times the originally planned distance and accumulating over two hours of total flight time.
Commenting on the historic journey, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said: “The remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best make the impossible, possible. Through missions like Ingenuity, NASA is paving the way for future flight in our solar system and smarter, safer human exploration to Mars and beyond.”
Ingenuity, which landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, attached to the belly of NASA’s Perseverance rover, initially lifted off from the Martian surface on April 19, proving the feasibility of powered, controlled flight on Mars. Following four additional flights, it transitioned to an operations demonstration, serving as an aerial scout for Perseverance scientists and rover drivers.
Laurie Leshin, Director, NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, added: At NASA JPL, innovation is at the heart of what we do. Ingenuity is an exemplar of the way we push the boundaries of whats possible every day. Im incredibly proud of our team behind this historic technological achievement and eager to see what theyll invent next.
Despite facing challenges such as power “brownouts” during the coldest parts of Martian winter, the Ingenuity team showcased resilience and innovation. Ingenuity autonomously chose landing sites, dealt with a dead sensor, operated from 48 different airfields, performed three emergency landings, and even survived the harsh Martian winter.
While planned to operate in spring, Ingenuity faced difficulties powering its heaters during winter nights, leading to periodic freezing of the flight computer. The team successfully redesigned winter operations to keep the helicopter operational.
With flight operations now concluded, the Ingenuity team will conduct final tests on helicopter systems and retrieve remaining imagery and data from Ingenuity’s onboard memory. Unfortunately, the Perseverance rover is currently too distant to capture images of the helicopter at its final airfield.
Ingenuitys project manager, Teddy Tzanetos of NASA JPL, stated: Its humbling Ingenuity not only carries onboard a swatch from the original Wright Flyer, but also this helicopter followed in its footsteps and proved flight is possible on another world. The Mars helicopter would have never flown once, much less 72 times, if it were not for the passion and dedication of the Ingenuity and Perseverance teams. Historys first Mars helicopter will leave behind an indelible mark on the future of space exploration and will inspire fleets of aircraft on Mars and other worlds for decades to come.