NASA’s Mars helicopter nailed its 10th flight – double what engineers had hoped Ingenuity would do

Mars ingenuity helicopter nasa perseverance rover
The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, sitting where the Perseverance rover dropped it, on April 5, 2021.

  • NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter completed its 10th flight on Mars Saturday.
  • That’s twice the number of flights that NASA originally planned for the little drone.
  • Engineers thought Ingenuity would crash much earlier, but it’s now on an extended mission.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The “little helicopter that could” has done it again.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, a tissue-box-sized rotorcraft that landed with the Perseverance rover in February, completed its 10th flight over the red planet on Saturday.

Each Ingenuity flight has been more daring than the last. So Saturday’s flight was likely the helicopter’s riskiest yet: If everything went according to plan, Ingenuity climbed 40 feet in the air, then headed south-by-southwest toward a collection of rock features called “Raised Ridges,” before looping back around to a landing zone about 310 feet west of its initial takeoff spot.

Before Saturday, Ingenuity had already flown nearly one mile in total, so its 10th flight helped it hit that threshold.

The flight should have lasted about 2 minutes, 45 seconds. During that time, Ingenuity is expected to have visited 10 distinct waypoints, snapping photos along the way.

ingenuity flight 10 path
An annotated image of Mars’ Jezero Crater depicts the ground track and waypoints for Ingenuity’s 10th flight.

Flight 10 is a significant milestone, since Ingenuity has now flown twice as many times as NASA engineers originally planned. NASA expected Ingenuity to crash on its fourth or fifth flight as it tested the limits of its speed and stamina.

But Ingenuity has continued to exceed expectations. Even when a glitch led the helicopter to wobble mid-air in May during its sixth flight, it still managed to touch down safely.

The drone started out as a technology demonstration, but NASA gave Ingenuity a secondary mission in late May after its fourth flight. Since then, Ingenuity has started scouting new Martian terrain and testing operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters. In its recent flights, Ingenuity has explored unsurveyed areas of Mars’ Jezero Crater – a 28-mile-wide impact basin that was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago – landing in new spots each time.

The uneven landscape is a challenge for Ingenuity, since rocky or rippled land can distort its field of view, causing it to veer in the wrong direction. Ingenuity’s ninth flight earlier this month was a “nail-biter,” NASA scientists said, since the helicopter had to cross over particularly treacherous terrain.

Ingenuity helicopter mars first flight Taking Off and Landing
The Perseverance rover captured footage of Ingenuity taking off and landing for its first flight on April 19, 2021.

Ingenuity is still proving itself useful on Mars, but its future is uncertain

In Ingenuity’s first four flights, the rotorcraft landed in the same spot it lifted off. Its fifth flight led it to touch down in a new airfield that it had previously flown over, photographed, and mapped. But these recent flights have sent Ingenuity traveling south over uncharted territory.

NASA engineers haven’t said when Ingenuity’s mission will end, but the helicopter could keep flying as long as it stays alive and doesn’t interfere with the science work of the Perseverance rover.

ingenuity flight seven shadow
Ingenuity captured a photo of its shadow during its seventh flight on Mars.

Perseverance is combing Jezero Crater in search of potential fossils of ancient alien microbes. Ingenuity’s new operations can assist with that mission: The helicopter can scout and map terrain, spot promising areas for study from the air, and fly to spots the rover can’t reach.

NASA scientists are particularly curious about “Raised Ridges,” since water may have once flowed there. During its ninth flight, Ingenuity also snapped color images of intriguing rock outcrops that Perseverance might examine later.

“We’re hoping the color images will provide the closest look yet at ‘Pilot Pinnacle,’ a location featuring outcrops that some team members think may record some of the deepest water environments in old Lake Jezero,” NASA scientists wrote in a recent blog post.

It’s possible, though, that Perseverance’s tight schedule won’t allow it to visit the rocks, “so Ingenuity may offer the only opportunity to study these deposits in any detail,” the scientists said.

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NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover will fire a laser from its 7-foot robotic arm to cut its first sample of Martian rock

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover on the Martian surface.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover will start collecting its first rock sample in the next two weeks.

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover will collect its first Mars rock sample within two weeks, the agency said.
  • The rover’s 7-foot robotic arm will cut out a chalk-sized rock sample with a laser.
  • The mission will help NASA search for signs of ancient life on Mars, the agency said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

NASA on Wednesday said that its Perseverance rover was preparing to collect its first sample of Martian rock to help scientists search for signs of ancient life.

Since the Mars rover landed on the red planet in February, it has explored the Martian surface, photographed its surroundings, and helped with the helicopter Ingenuity’s test flights.

In June, Perseverance began its first scientific mission, setting off on a three-mile road trip to reach the Jezero Crater. Now it’s there, the rover will pick up its first ever Mars rock sample with its 7-foot robotic arm, NASA said in a statement.

Instruments on the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm will scan the Martian surface where it plans to extract the rock, NASA said. The arm will scrape off the top layers of rock and dust to expose an unweathered surface, the space agency added.

One of the instruments will fire a laser onto the surface to cut out a piece of the rock, according to NASA. The rover will stop for a Martian day to recharge its batteries for the next day, NASA said.

Perseverance will then lift out a chalk-sized rock sample and put it in a sealed tube, NASA said. A spacecraft will later pick up the tube and bring it back to Earth for scientific observation, the agency said.

The rock collection mission, which will begin within the next two weeks, will take Perseverance 11 days to complete, NASA said.

“While the rocks located in this geologic unit are not great time capsules for organics, we believe they have been around since the formation of Jezero Crater and incredibly valuable to fill gaps in our geologic understanding of this region,” Perseverance project scientist Ken Farley said in the statement.

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NASA’s Mars helicopter has now flown successfully 8 times, beaming back photos that look like a sci-fi film

Mars ingenuity helicopter nasa perseverance rover
The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, sitting where the Perseverance rover dropped it, April 5, 2021.

On Monday, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter completed its eighth flight on Mars.

mars ingenuity helicopter rotor blades spin
The Perseverance rover captured the Ingenuity helicopter before (left) and after (right) spinning its rotor blades.

The 4-pound helicopter spun its two pairs of blades to lift itself more than 30 feet above the ochre Martian dust. At a speed of 9 mph, it zipped to a new landing spot 525 feet away.

The tissue-box-sized space drone has come a long way since the Perseverance rover dropped it onto the Martian surface in April.

NASA Perseverance
The Perseverance rover took a selfie with Ingenuity before its first flight in April.

The pair of robots landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18.

Ingenuity was meant to conduct up to five test flights in order to prove that helicopters could fly over and explore Mars. The demo chopper has far exceeded engineers’ expectations.

Ingenuity made history on April 19 when it took flight for the first time. It hovered 10 feet above the Martian surface for about 30 seconds.

Ingenuity helicopter mars first flight Taking Off and Landing
Mastcam-Z, an imager aboard the Perseverance rover, captured Ingenuity taking off and landing for its first flight on April 19, 2021.

It was the first powered, controlled flight ever conducted on another planet.

A camera on the Perseverance rover captured the flight in exquisite color.

ingenuity mars helicopter first flight photos perseverance edited skitch 4x3
The Perseverance rover captured Ingenuity’s first flight on Mars, April 19, 2021.

Perseverance moved to a nearby overlook to photograph and film the event.

Ingenuity snapped its own photos, too, using a color camera on the bottom of the helicopter.

ingenuity helicopter shadow on rocky mars soil
Ingenuity photographed its own shadow on April 9, 2021.

The camera is mounted on Ingenuity’s fuselage, and it points about 22 degrees below the horizon. That allows the lens to capture some of the Martian landscape in the distance as Ingenuity flies.

A black-and-white navigation camera also captures images as the chopper flies.

ingenuity helicopter shadow on martian ground black and white
Ingenuity photographed its own shadow just above the Martian surface – along with some tracks from the Perseverance rover – during its third flight, April 25, 2021.

That camera points straight down, allowing the helicopter to map where it is above the Martian surface.

Ingenuity’s color camera captured mid-flight photos of Perseverance’s tracks in the dust below.

ingenuity shadow approaches perseverance rover wheel tracks in mars red dust
Ingenuity photographed Perseverance’s tracks, and its own shadow, during its second flight, April 22, 2021.

The photo above is the first color image taken from an aerial vehicle flying on Mars.

The camera even spotted Perseverance during Ingenuity’s third flight.

ingenuity helicopter rover perseverance nasa
NASA’s Perseverance rover is visible in the upper-left corner of this image from Ingenuity’s third flight on Mars, April 25, 2021.

During that flight, Ingenuity zipped about 160 feet down its flight zone, then returned, at 4.5 mph.

Perseverance watched Ingenuity’s first five flights, then drove away to start on its own science mission: searching for signs of ancient alien life.

perseverance mars rover ingenuity helicopter
A zoomed-in view of Perseverance from the photo Ingenuity captured during its third flight.

Perseverance is now exploring the deposits left behind by a lake that once filled Jezero Crater. Scientists think that this lake may have hosted microbial life 3.5 billion years ago. Sediment falling to the lake bottom may have trapped and fossilized some of those microbes — if they existed.

Perseverance aims to collect dozens of soil samples from the lake bed, the nearby river delta, and the shorelines. It will stash those samples for a future mission to carry back to Earth.

Before moving on, Perseverance captured video footage of Ingenuity’s flights. Its microphone even picked up the sound of the helicopter’s spinning blades.

To get the helicopter off the ground in Mars’ thin atmosphere, Ingenuity’s rotors have to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute. That’s five times as fast as the blades of a helicopter on Earth.

Meanwhile, Ingenuity’s navigation camera snapped photos throughout each flight, which combine to offer stop-motion-style footage of its shadow traveling over Martian ground.

Ingenuity helicopter flight shadow moving over mars
NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter took these images on its fourth Mars flight, on April 30, 2021, using its black-and-white navigation camera.

“Goosebumps — it looks just the way we had tested,” MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said as she presented video of Ingenuity’s first flight at a press conference in April. “Absolutely beautiful flight — I don’t think I can ever stop watching it over and over again.”

Ingenuity carried out its first three flights so flawlessly that NASA gave it a new, extended mission.

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter mid-air on April 22, 2021.

For as long as it survives, the Ingenuity team decided, the helicopter will keep flying to new airfields. That way, it can test operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters. That includes scouting and mapping, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and exploring rough terrain that rovers can’t access.

Over eight flights, the helicopter has pushed itself further, faster, and higher. It has landed safely in uncharted territory three times.

mars surface brown red dust below ingenuity flying
Ingenuity’s color camera captured the ground below in sharp detail during a flight on May 7, 2021.

NASA engineers initially did not think they could fly Ingenuity higher than 16 feet, but the helicopter has reached heights of about 33 feet. It’s traveled as far as 873 feet in a single flight and moved as fast as 9 mph.

It’s hopped to four new airfields — three of which were unsurveyed.

Ingenuity even survived a mid-air error. During its sixth flight, a glitch made the helicopter tilt wildly back and forth.

nasa ingenuity helicopter photographs mars during sixth flight
Ingenuity took this image of Mars from 33 feet in the air during its sixth flight, May 22, 2021.

About 54 seconds into the flight, a small glitch occured as the navigation camera sent images to the helicopter’s computer. The chopper lost just one image, but that meant that each following photo was delivered with the wrong timestamp.

The error made Ingenuity roll and pitch, leaning more than 20 degrees from one side to the other. But it still managed to land safely.

Ingenuity helicopter tilt footage during sixth flight
This sequence of images – taken on May 22, 2021 by Ingenuity’s navigation camera – depicts the last 29 seconds of the rotorcraft’s sixth flight, when it began tilting back and forth.

“While we did not intentionally plan such a stressful flight, NASA now has flight data probing the outer reaches of the helicopter’s performance envelope,” Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot, wrote in a blog update on the incident.

NASA expected Ingenuity to crash long ago, but it still has more flights ahead.

ingenuity helicopter mars
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021.

Perseverance scientist Ken Farley told a NASA group on Monday that he expects Ingenuity’s new mission to continue for a few more months, according to SpaceNews reporter Jeff Foust.

That would keep up the current rate of about two flights per month. In the future, more advanced helicopters may even work alongside astronauts on Mars.

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2 stunning panoramas show life on Mars through the eyes and ears of NASA’s Perseverance rover

perseverance
NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars.

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover has been snapping photos of Mars for several months.
  • A new 360-degree video captures Mars’ rocky terrain, plus the sound of its windy atmosphere.
  • Another panorama gives a close-up look at the rover’s tracks in the Martian soil.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In its first 100 days on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance rover took more than 75,000 images – including selfies, photos of mysterious rocks, and a snapshot of its own shadow.

But NASA recently published a 360-degree panoramic video from the rover that offers one of the most immersive looks yet at its view of the Martian terrain.

The video is a compilation of 992 individual photos taken by Perseverance between April 15 and 26, though the photo of the rover itself is from March 20. At the time, Perseverance was keeping an eye on the Ingenuity helicopter, the 4-pound rotorcraft that traveled in its belly to Mars.

Both the rover and helicopter are stationed in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide ancient lake bed that was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago.

In the video, you can find Ingenuity in its original landing spot, dubbed Wright Brothers Field. The helicopter was originally supposed to conduct five flights over Mars, but after an exceptional performance, NASA sent it to start exploring new locations. Ingenuity completed its seventh flight – and second “bonus” flight – on Monday.

Perseverance spent 13 days watching Ingenuity’s first flights from a nearby lookout point called the Van Zyl Overlook. That’s the vantage point from which the panoramic video was taken.

The video also includes soundbites of Mars’ windy atmosphere, which were picked up by the rover’s microphones on February 22.

Another panorama, taken on March 20, offers a similar glimpse of the rocky Martian landscape.

That photo gives a closer look at Perseverance’s equipment deck, which carries the rover’s cameras and mast. The deck also contains antennas to pick up on sounds and send communications back to Earth.

If you look closely in the panorama, you can see detailed rover tracks in the copper-colored Martian soil. You can also spot the rover’s debris shield – a guitar-shaped covering that protected Ingenuity during the initial Mars landing.

Both panoramic views were taken by Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z, a pair of rectangular cameras with powerful zoom lenses that can record video and snap three-dimensional and color images.

A road trip to explore new Martian terrain

Perseverance embarked on its primary science mission on June 1: hunting for fossils of ancient alien microbes.

That required it to leave its landing spot in Jezero Crater and head on a road trip to some of the area’s deepest and potentially oldest layers of exposed rock.

Perseverance will spend the next few months exploring a 1.5-square-mile patch of crater floor. Over the course of the trip, the rover is expected to travel up to 3.1 miles and collect up to eight tubes of Martian rock and dust.

First, Perseverance will drive to Séítah-North, a mitten-shaped area covered in sand dunes. The uneven terrain will likely to be difficult to navigate, so Perseverance must dodge the dunes before bee-lining for the spot it intends to study.

perseverance route
The routes for Perseverance’s first science campaign (yellow hash marks) as well as its second (light-yellow hash marks).

Next, Perseverance will head toward the nearby Cratered Floor Fractured Rough. There, it will collect rock and sediment samples and stow them so that a future mission can one day return them to Earth.

Eventually, Perseverance will retrace its steps toward its landing site, marking the end of the first leg of its science mission.

After that, NASA scientists plan to send Perseverance to the base of Jezero Crater’s ancient river delta. The trek to this area, known as Three Forks, will take several months. But scientists hope to discover something there that’s worth the trip: minerals that might have trapped and fossilized microbes if life ever existed on the red planet.

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Ingenuity has done it again: NASA’s Mars helicopter landed in a new spot it had never seen before

ingenuity second flight mars helicopter
The Perseverance rover captured Ingenuity in mid-air during its second flight on April 22, 2021.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has defied expectations on Mars once again, flying 350 feet south to land in totally new territory.

For the second time, the tissue-box-sized drone flew to a new landing site, hovered above ground that its navigation cameras had never seen before, then gently lowered itself to touchdown. NASA only had information about the new area from its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which images the red planet from space. The orbiter’s pictures indicated that the spot was flat and should be safe for landing.

ingenuity flight seven shadow
Ingenuity captured this photo of its shadow during its seventh flight on Mars.

The gamble paid off. Now Ingenuity is sitting in a brand new airfield with a total of seven flights under its belt.

“Another successful flight,” NASA announced on Tuesday. The agency did not specify on what day the flight took place, but it was set for no earlier than Sunday.

NASA didn’t originally plan to move the helicopter around so much. It was only designed for five flights, and engineers expected it to crash by the end of that series. But Ingenuity performed so well in its initial, more cautious flights that the agency has sent it on a daring new mission. For as long as it survives, the helicopter is expected to keep flying to new airfields.

Ingenuity helicopter flight shadow moving over mars
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took these images on its fourth flight, on April 30, 2021, using the black-and-white navigation camera on its belly.

That new directive gives Ingenuity a chance to test operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters. That includes scouting and mapping, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and exploring rough terrain that rovers can’t access.

“The ability to fly the helicopter out into terrain that the rover cannot possibly traverse and bring back scientific data – this is extremely important for future missions that could combine a rover with a reconnaissance helicopter,” Ken Farley, a project scientist with NASA’s Perseverance rover, said in a briefing.

The helicopter conducted the first of these bonus flights on May 22, when it flew a record 700 feet to a new site. In mid-air, its navigation system suffered a glitch that caused the helicopter to pitch side to side as it flew. But even then, Ingenuity stabilized itself enough to land safely. It wound up within about 16 feet of its target spot, touching down in totally uncharted territory for the first time.

ingenuity helicopter mars
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover’s rear Hazard Camera on April 4, 2021.

NASA hasn’t said how many more times Ingenuity may fly.

“We’re in a kind of see-how-it-goes phase,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said.

Meanwhile, the Perseverance rover that carried Ingenuity to Mars has started driving south to the region where it will attempt to take its first sample of Martian soil. Its primary mission is to analyze Martian rocks and soil and collect dozens of samples for a future NASA mission to bring back to Earth. In those samples, scientists could find the first evidence of ancient alien microbes – fossils trapped in the bottom of an ancient lake bed.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover has been on Mars 100 days. Its best photos show mysterious rocks, false rainbows, and helicopter flights.

NASA Perseverance
Perseverance took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter on April 6, 2021.

As of Tuesday, NASA’s Perseverance rover has spent 100 days on the red planet.

perservance camera selfie
Perseverance photographed its own cameras.

It landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater on February 18. If life ever existed on the planet, this ancient lake bed may hold fossils of ancient alien microbes.

Perseverance Rover
NASA’s Perseverance rover descends to touch down on Mars, February 18, 2021.

Cameras aboard the rover and on the jetpack that lowered it to the Martian surface captured the first-ever video footage of a Mars landing.

Since then, Perseverance has built up a library of stunning photos.

perseverance mars rover landing jetpack
Perseverance photographed the jetpack above that lowered the rover to the Martian surface, February 18, 2021.

NASA has been sharing new images from the rover almost every day, as Perseverance beams them back to Earth.

The rover began to photograph its surroundings shortly after landing, capturing Jezero Crater’s cliffs, boulder fields, and sand dunes.

jezero crater rim perseverance mars rover mastcam z panorama
The rim of Jezero Crater as seen in the first 360-degree panorama taken by the Mastcam-Z instrument aboard NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.

The rover is equipped with 23 cameras. Some help it navigate Martian terrain by spotting potential hazards like large rocks or trenches. Others allow human operators on Earth to check that the rover’s parts are in good shape.

The Perseverance team stitched together 142 images that Perseverance captured to create a panorama of the area.

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The first 360-degree panorama taken by Mastcam-Z, made up of images captured during Perseverance’s third day on Mars.

Within a month, the rover spotted its first dust devil.

 

Mars doesn’t have rainbows, but Perseverance captured a lens flare that looked like one.

Mars Rainbow
A Perseverance photo from April featured a lens flare that looked like a Martian rainbow.

“Rainbows aren’t possible here,” NASA tweeted from its Perseverance account. “Rainbows are created by light reflected off of round water droplets, but there isn’t enough water here to condense, and it’s too cold for liquid water in the atmosphere. This arc is a lens flare.”

To test its laser tool, the rover zapped a nearby rock and photographed the line of dots it left on the surface.

perseverance rover laser zaps rock skitch
Perseverance photographed the line of dots its laser left on a rock that it zapped in March 2021.

Perseverance uses a laser to vaporize the dust on rocks in order to study the minerals inside.

Perseverance even spotted its own shadow.

perseverance rover shadow on mars rocks
A hazard-avoidance camera captured Perseverance’s shadow falling on Martian rocks on May 25, 2021.

The rover’s cameras have also documented the Ingenuity helicopter’s journey, starting from its descent from the rover’s belly onto the Martian surface.

Ingenuity helicopter unfolds below perseverance rover
Perseverance dropped its belly pan (left) to reveal the Ingenuity helicopter and allow it to unfold (right).

The helicopter is a technology demonstration — NASA engineers wanted to see if they could fly it in the thin Martian atmosphere. Because it has just 1% the density of Earth’s atmosphere, that’s the Earth equivalent of flying at three times the height of Mount Everest.

After Ingenuity emerged, Perseverance looked back as it backed away, leaving the 4-pound drone to survive its first frigid Martian night alone.

Mars ingenuity helicopter nasa perseverance rover
The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, sitting where the Perseverance rover dropped it, April 5, 2021.

Nighttime temperatures on Mars can plunge as low as negative 130 degrees Fahrenheit, but Ingenuity’s insulation and heaters have kept it warm enough to survive.

Perseverance took an impressive selfie with Ingenuity before driving to the overlook from which it would later watch the helicopter fly.

Perseverance selfie
Perseverance took a selfie with Ingenuity on April 6, 2021.

The selfie is actually a mosaic of 62 individual images.

When Ingenuity lifted itself from the red dust for the first time and made history, Perseverance was watching.

ingenuity second flight mars helicopter
The Perseverance rover captured Ingenuity in mid-air during its second flight on April 22, 2021.

These were the first controlled, powered flights ever conducted on another planet.

The rover captured full video of the helicopter’s first flights, too.

Ingenuity performed so well during its first three flights that NASA gave it an extended mission. Now it’s flying to new airfields and scouting uncharted territory — testing out tasks that NASA hopes to accomplish with future Mars helicopters. 

Now that Ingenuity’s initial flights are done, Perseverance has begun its primary science mission.

mars santa cruz mountain nasa perseverance rover
The Mastcam-Z imager capture this image of “Santa Cruz,” a hill about 1.5 miles away from Perseverance, on April 29, 2021.

The rover’s main goal is to collect samples of Martian rock that could contain hints of ancient microbial life on Mars. It will cache these samples for a future NASA mission to bring back to Earth.

The rover’s zooming cameras have begun studying mysterious rocks, starting with the “zoom test” pictured below.

When NASA scientists saw that Perseverance’s landing site was surrounded by these kinds of rocks, they changed the rover’s plans to stay in the area a few weeks longer. They want to learn whether these are volcanic rocks, or the kind that come from river sediment. Sticking around also allowed Ingenuity to continue flying.

Once it’s done studying those rocks, Perseverance is set to drive towards the cliffs of the river delta that once fed Lake Jezero.

jezero crater river delta remnant perseverance rover mars
A remnant of the Jezero river delta rises against the cliffs of the crater, as photographed by Perseverance on February 22, 2021.

There, scientists expect to find soil and rock rich with ancient river deposits of mud and clay — and perhaps fossils of microbes trapped inside them.

Aria Bendix contributed reporting.

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NASA’s Mars helicopter will attempt a perilous landing in unknown territory during its first ‘bonus’ flight this week

ingenuity helicopter mars
NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover on April 4, 2021.

A month ago, NASA was preparing to sacrifice its Mars helicopter in the name of science.

Ingenuity was designed to soar five times over the Martian surface as a technology demonstration. With each flight, NASA engineers were pushing the 4-pound rotorcraft as far and fast as it would go, so they anticipated that it would eventually crash.

But time and again, Ingenuity wasn’t felled – not by the strong Martian winds, clouds of copper dust, or other challenges to its mechanics and navigation system. So by the end of April, NASA announced that it would extend the helicopter’s life on Mars.

Ingenuity has now embarked on a new, secondary mission to scout out Martian terrain and test operations that NASA might want to conduct with future space helicopters. That includes exploring rough areas that rovers can’t access, observing interesting features of Mars from the air, and snapping photos for elevation maps.

Ingenuity is scheduled to complete its first “bonus” flight – the helicopter’s sixth flight in total – within the next few days. The excursion will require more precise maneuvering and aerial observations than any of Ingenuity’s previous flights, making it the drone’s riskiest voyage yet.

During its first four flights, Ingenuity returned to the same landing spot, which NASA dubbed Wright Brothers Field. But it’s now making one-way trips to different areas.

Ingenuity’s fifth flight took it to a new spot in Mars’ Jezero Crater, a 28-mile-wide impact basin that was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago. The helicopter had scouted out the location during a previous flight.

This week’s flight will be the first time Ingenuity touches down at an area that it didn’t previously survey.

NASA’s only information about that new landing spot, called “Field C,” comes from images collected by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These suggest the area is relatively flat and boulder-free, making it a safe place to land.

The plan is for Ingenuity to spend 140 seconds above the Martian surface – the longest it has ever been airborne – moving at a speed of 9 miles per hour. Ingenuity should also soar 33 feet in the air, an altitude it reached during its fifth flight, which NASA engineers previously thought impossible for the little drone.

From there, it’s programmed to head southwest for about 492 feet then move about 50 to 66 feet south. Along the way, Ingenuity should capture images of bright Martian outcrops and sand ripples. After that, the chopper is set to fly about 164 feet northeast before touching down at Field C.

ingenuity third flight from rover
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be seen hovering during its third flight on April 25, 2021.

‘Ingenuity is not going to land gently’

At this point, every one of Ingenuity’s landings is challenging.

“Note that Ingenuity is not going to land gently – it will attempt to fly in winds as high as 22 mph,” Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer, and Jeremy Tyler, an aeromechanical engineer at AeroVironment, wrote in a coauthored post for NASA.

ingenuity second flight mars helicopter
The Perseverance rover captured a photo of Ingenuity in mid-air during its second flight on April 22, 2021.

“Our strategy for landing in windy conditions is to come down with authority, placing Ingenuity’s feet firmly on the ground so that it won’t drift across the surface of Mars and snag a foot on a rock,” they said.

The helicopter’s suspension system is designed to cushion its touchdown on the Martian surface. But it’s still possible that the rotorcraft could tip over and land on its side, which would damage the blades, effectively ending Ingenuity’s mission.

“We hope we will be flying over unsurveyed terrains and, over time, continuing to transfer to airfields that are not well characterized. So there is a higher probability of bad landing,” MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said in a recent briefing.

Even before Ingenuity’s new mission, Aung repeatedly said that a bad landing could end the chopper’s flights. So far, however, the helicopter continues to exceed expectations.

Ingenuity’s fate is tied to the Perseverance rover

ingenuity mars

NASA extended Ingenuity’s mission by 30 days on April 30, so the mission isn’t guaranteed to continue next month. But the drone could keep flying longer, as long as it stays alive and doesn’t interfere with the science work of the Perseverance rover, which carried Ingenuity to Mars.

“We’re in a kind of see-how-it-goes phase,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, said last month.

Perseverance has begun its main mission on the red planet: hunting for fossils of ancient alien microbes.

For now, that work is taking place near the helicopter, since Ingenuity must communicate with NASA through the rover.

NASA’s initial plan called for Perseverance to travel farther from its landing spot in the Jezero Crater than it has by now. But then the rover photographed some promising rocks that convinced NASA scientists to further investigate the immediate region.

“These rocks are likely to be mudstones, very fine grained, once mud on the bottom of the lake,” Perseverance scientist Ken Farley said in a briefing last month. “These are very important for our investigation, because this is the kind of environment that we expect to be the most habitable by organisms that might have existed on Mars billions of years ago.”

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed reporting.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover captured more striking photos of Martian territory in recent weeks

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Perseverance has won many fans during its Mars mission.

  • Fans of NASA’s latest Mars mission continue to be kept entertained by the adventures of its rover.
  • Perseverance’s exploration of Martian territory has resulted in many striking images.
  • From snaps of Jezero Crater to 360-degree panoramas, Insider rounded up the highlights.
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Perseverance captured an image of “Santa Cruz,” a hill about 1.5 miles away from the rover. The hill sits inside Mars’ Jezero Crater.

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The rim of Jezero Crater can be seen on the horizon line beyond the hill.

This shot, which appeared to show a rainbow, is actually a lens flare across the dusty Martian sky, agency officials said.

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NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover captured this image on April 4, 2021.

Perseverance viewed these rocks using its right mastcam-Z camera.

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This image was acquired on May. 13, 2021, and was selected as “Image of the Week” for Week 13.

Perseverance’s hazard cameras snap NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter on its fourth flight.

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NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover captured this image of Ingenuity on April 30, 2021.

The rover took a selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter. This photo is made up of 62 individual images stitched together when they were sent back to Earth.

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Perseverance Mars rover standing side by side with NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter.

Cameras aboard Perseverance zoom into what is most likely a section of an ancient delta in Jezero.

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This photograph was taken by Perseverance Mars rover’s right Mastcam-Z Camera on May 8, 2021.

A color-calibrated image from the rover’s navigation camera, showing an indentation of its tracks from its first drive.

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NASA’s Perseverance rover captured its tracks on the Martian surface.

Perseverance snapped this image of Ingenuity hovering mid-air during its second flight.

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter mid-air.

Back on Earth, the Perseverance team stitched together six individual images taken by the rover on Mars to create this 360-degree panorama.

1_ _PIA24422_ _Navcam_360_ _Maki_7_Navcam_360_08_N_LRGB_0002_RAS_0010052_CYL_S_UNCORCLJ01 stretched v2
A panoramic image of Martian ground taken by Perseverance’s Navigation Cameras.

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Life detected on Mars might have actually originated in NASA labs, according to an Ivy League scientist

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter can be viewed in the distance during its fourth flight on the Red Planet.

  • NASA may have contaminated Mars with life, according to an Ivy League scientist.
  • Life discovered on the Red Planet might have “originated in NASA labs,” said Christopher Mason.
  • Microbes can wreak havoc when they arrive at a new ecosystem, he wrote in a BBC article.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As explorations on the Red Planet continue, a Cornell scientist questioned whether life discovered on Mars might have actually “originated on Earth in NASA labs,” The Hill reported.

Christopher Mason, a professor at Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell University, said such a scenario could have occurred despite rigorous cleaning processes and spacecraft assembly in specialized rooms.

Mason wrote in depth about the subject in an article for the BBC. Spacecraft, like NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, are built in thoroughly sterilized rooms – with air filters and strict biological procedures – one layer at a time, with all equipment cleaned before it is added to the machine, he explained.

These methods restrict bacteria, viruses, or fungi on machinery to be sent on a mission.

“But, it is almost impossible to get to zero biomass on a spacecraft,” wrote Mason. “Microbes have been on Earth for billions of years, and they are everywhere. They are inside us, on our bodies, and all around us. Some can sneak through even the cleanest of clean rooms.”

In two recent studies conducted by Mason, he highlights how some organisms might survive the cleaning process and also the trip to Mars, as well as how fast microbial species can grow while in space.

“It turns out that clean rooms might serve as an evolutionary selection process for the hardiest bugs that then may have a greater chance of surviving a journey to Mars,” he wrote.

Clean rooms at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory pose the greatest risk as evidence of microbes with greater resistance against radiation and cold environments have been found.

Mason added that if these microbes appear on Mars, it would cause what researchers refer to as “forward contamination,” which is when humanity might bring something from one planet to another, intentionally or unintentionally.

He warned that the microbes can “wreak havoc” when they arrive at a new ecosystem and that they may also pose detrimental threats to astronaut’s health.

Perseverance landed on Mars in February and began looking for signs that might indicate ancient life on the Red Planet.

NASA said it has been taking extra precautions to ensure all samples returned from Mars will be safely contained. Scientists, however, are aware that tests may need to be conducted to ensure findings are Martian in origin.

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