NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter on Mars Says Goodbye

The stranded Ingenuity Mars Helicopter sent its last signal from Mars to Earth, including a farewell message for mission scientists. It will carry on gathering data on Mars until it ceases functioning, though this data will not be transmitted back to Earth.

Ingenuity is currently stranded in Mars' Valinor Fields where it crashed in January. It was photographed by the Perseverance rover on Feb. 4. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSS
Ingenuity is now stranded in Mars' Valinor Fields where it crashed in January. It was photographed by the Perseverance rover on Feb. 4. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSS
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The stranded Ingenuity Mars Helicopter sent its last signal from Mars to Earth, including a farewell message for mission scientists. It will carry on gathering data on Mars until it ceases functioning, though this data will not be transmitted back to Earth.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter was a technology demonstration to test the first powered flight on Mars and was expected to perform a series of flight tests over a period of 30 sol (Martian days). This Mars Helicopter, or rotorcraft, is 19.3-inch-tall (49-centimeter-tall), weighs 4-pounds (1.8 kg) and contains no science instruments inside its “tissue-box-size fuselage”. Its objective was to demonstrate whether future exploration of Mars could also include an aerial component. It travelled to Mars on board the Perseverance rover, which landed on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021. Ingenuity completed its first-ever powered flight on an alien world on April 19, 2021. And then during its 25th flight on April 8, 2022, it covered a distance of 2,310 feet (704 meters) and at a speed of 12 mph (5.5 meters per second), this was the Red Planet rotorcraft’s longest and fastest flight to date.

Now the little helicopter has said goodbye in its last communication to Earth according to a statement by NASA: “Engineers working on NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter assembled for one last time in a control room at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on Tuesday, April 16, to monitor a transmission from the history-making helicopter. While the mission ended Jan. 25, the rotorcraft has remained in communication with the agency’s Perseverance Mars rover, which serves as a base station for Ingenuity. This transmission, received through the antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network, marked the final time the mission team would be working together on Ingenuity operations.”

When it beamed back its final signal to Earth on April 16, the message included the remaining data from its memory bank and information about its final flight. “The telemetry confirmed that a software update previously beamed up to Ingenuity was operating as expected. The new software contains commands that direct the helicopter to continue collecting data well after communications with the rover have ceased.”, says the statement.

So, its job is not entirely over: It will “serve as a stationary testbed, collecting data that could benefit future explorers of the Red Planet“.

“With apologies to Dylan Thomas, Ingenuity will not be going gently into that good Martian night,” said Josh Anderson, Ingenuity team lead at JPL. “It is almost unbelievable that after over 1,000 Martian days on the surface, 72 flights, and one rough landing, she still has something to give. And thanks to the dedication of this amazing team, not only did Ingenuity overachieve beyond our wildest dreams, but also it may teach us new lessons in the years to come.”

 

Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

 

As mentioned above, Ingenuity was designed to demonstrate for only 30 sols (Mars days) and to perform up to five experimental test flights. However, this first aircraft on an alien world operated from the Martian surface for almost three years, flew more than 14 times farther than the distance expected, and logged more than two hours of total flight time.

According to NASA: “Ingenuity’s mission ended after the helicopter experienced a hard landing on its last flight, significantly damaging its rotor blades. Unable to fly, the rotorcraft will remain at “Valinor Hills” while the Perseverance rover drives out of communications range as it continues to explore the western limb of Jezero Crater.”

“The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to end,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “That 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.”

NASA said in a statement: “With the software patch in place, Ingenuity will now wake up daily, activate its flight computers, and test the performance of its solar panel, batteries, and electronic equipment. In addition, the helicopter will take a picture of the surface with its color camera and collect temperature data from sensors placed throughout the rotorcraft. Ingenuity’s engineers and Mars scientists believe such long-term data collection could not only benefit future designers of aircraft and other vehicles for the Red Planet, but also provide a long-term perspective on Martian weather patterns and dust movement.

During this final gathering, the team received a farewell message from Ingenuity featuring the names of people who worked on the mission. Mission controllers at JPL sent the message to Perseverance the day before, which handed it off to Ingenuity so that it could transmit the farewell back to Earth.”

“Whenever humanity revisits Valinor Hills — either with a rover, a new aircraft, or future astronauts — Ingenuity will be waiting with her last gift of data, a final testament to the reason we dare mighty things,” said Ingenuity’s project manager, Teddy Tzanetos of JPL. “Thank you, Ingenuity, for inspiring a small group of people to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds at the frontiers of space.”

Tzanetos and other Ingenuity team members are now conducting further research on how future Mars helicopters — including the Mars Science Helicopter concept — could benefit explorations of the Red Planet and beyond.

So, we say farewell to Ingenuity, but it is not goodbye yet!

 

I am a Chartered Environmentalist from the Royal Society for the Environment, UK and co-owner of DoLocal Digital Marketing Agency Ltd, with a Master of Environmental Management from Yale University, an MBA in Finance, and a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Mathematics. I am passionate about science, history and environment and love to create content on these topics.

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