The tiny Mars helicopter Ingenuity continues to power through its flights, exceeding all expectations. Originally slated for just five flights on the red planet, the helicopter recently completed its 23rd flight and is still going. Ingenuity is on its way to meet up with its rover companion Perseverance, and in the future, it will help the rover’s mission to search for evidence of ancient life on Mars by scouting out driving routes and objects of scientific interest.
“23 flights and counting!,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote of the recent achievement on Twitter. “#MarsHelicopter successfully completed its 23rd excursion. It flew for 129.1 seconds over 358 meters. Data from Ingenuity in the new region it’s headed to will help the @NASAPersevere team find potential science targets.”
23 flights and counting! #MarsHelicopter successfully completed its 23rd excursion. It flew for 129.1 seconds over 358 meters. Data from Ingenuity in the new region it’s headed to will help the @NASAPersevere team find potential science targets. https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/I63LrizOEc
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) March 25, 2022
The Perseverance rover is on its way to the delta in the Jezero crater. Millions of years ago there was plentiful water in the delta, which would have been warm and shallow, making it the perfect place for life to emerge. If there ever was life on Mars, then the delta is a likely location it could have developed. Additionally, the geological makeup of the delta means it would be good at preserving signs of life as well. So it’s the best place we’ve found on Mars so far to search for evidence of life.
The Ingenuity helicopter can help Perseverance in its mission by looking ahead for driving routes. The rover drives relatively slowly because it has to move with great care to avoid rocks and other obstacles which could damage it and cut its life short. Having Ingenuity scout ahead can help Perseverance move faster and avoid hazards. Ingenuity can also spot interesting-looking targets for Perseverance to investigate in more detail.
Ingenuity recently had its mission extended until September in order to help Perseverance with its scientific investigations. “The Jezero river delta campaign will be the biggest challenge the Ingenuity team faces since first flight at Mars,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said at the time. “To enhance our chances of success, we have increased the size of our team and are making upgrades to our flight software geared toward improving operational flexibility and flight safety.”