NASA announces end of history-making Mars helicopter mission


NASA said its miniature robot helicopter Ingenuity, which in 2021 became the first aircraft to achieve powered flight on another planet, can no longer can fly, ending a mission that lasted far longer than originally planned.

The fate of Ingenuity was sealed when imagery beamed back to Earth after its 72nd and final flight on January 18 showed that a portion of one of the miniature whirligig's twin rotor blades had broken off, leaving it incapable of further operation, NASA officials said.

"It is bittersweet that I must announce that Ingenuity, the 'little helicopter that could' - and it kept saying, 'I think I can, I think I can' - well, it has now taken its last flight on Mars," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a video posted on social media.

What was planned as a 30-day technology demonstration of no more than five short flights ended up stretching well beyond the expectations of engineers who designed and built the helicopter at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles.

Ingenuity ultimately buzzed over the Martian terrain 14 times farther than originally planned, logging more than two hours, eight minutes of flight time and covering a distance of 17 km through all 72 flights. Its peak altitude was measured at 24 meters.

The rotor-craft was carried to the Red Planet strapped to the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover, which landed three years ago on the floor of a vast Martian basin called Jerezo Crater on a separate mission aimed primarily at collecting surface samples for eventual return to Earth.

Ingenuity, resembling a box with four legs and parasol of rotor blades and solar panel, will live out its final days idle but emitting periodic blips of data before losing contact with the rover as Perseverance moves farther away.

Still, NASA officials celebrated Ingenuity's exploits as paving the way for a new mode of aerial exploration on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system, such as Saturn's moon Titan, for which a rotor-craft called Dragonfly is under development.

Engineers will run final tests on Ingenuity and download remaining images from its onboard computer, NASA said.

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