Images from NASA’s Perseverance rover reveal that mysterious floods dragged boulders across Mars

perseverance rover selfie on mars
NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took this selfie on September 10, 2021.

  • NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars snapped photos of cliffs that show signs of ancient flash floods.
  • The first study of Perseverance‘s data suggests that a flooding river dragged boulders for miles.
  • The photos also pinpoint ancient river sediment in which the rover could search for fossilized life.

In the dry Martian crater where NASA’s Perseverance rover is searching for signs of long-gone life, torrential flash floods once dragged boulders for miles.

That’s what researchers concluded in the first study of Perseverance’s data since the rover landed on Mars in February.

Its landing site, a 28-mile-wide crater called Jezero, was filled with water more than 3.5 billion years ago. Back then, a river spilled over the crater wall, carrying minerals and clay that could have trapped and fossilized ancient microbes at the bottom of Lake Jezero.

If such life ever existed on Mars, NASA scientists think they might find it in Jezero Crater, even though all the water has dried up. That’s Perseverance’s main mission there. As it explores the crater and the ancient river delta, it’s collecting samples of rock, dirt, and ancient mineral deposits for a future mission to bring back to Earth.

jezero crater mars lake water illustration
An illustration of Jezero Crater as it may have looked billions of years go on Mars.

But as the rover treks toward the cliffs of the river delta, which it’s set to explore in the coming months, its photos have revealed something strange. In the steep slopes, called escarpments, or “scarps,” Perseverance spotted layers of large rocks and boulders.

“We saw distinct layers in the scarps containing boulders up to five feet across that we knew had no business being there,” Nicolas Mangold, a Perseverance scientist in France who led the study, said in a NASA press release.

The cliffs were constructed over centuries, as river minerals fell to the bottom of the lake, building layer upon layer. In some of the higher layers, which correspond to periods later in the lake’s history, groups of large boulders jut out from the mineral deposits. They’re too large for any regular river to move – which means walls of raging water must have pushed them there.

mars cliff slopes
This composite image of the “Delta Scarp” in Mars’ Jezero Crater was generated using data from two imagers aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover. The inset zooms in on a 377-foot-wide portion.

The researchers estimated that flash floods had to increase the river water to speeds as high as 20 mph in order to move such big rocks. Waters that powerful can drag boulders for tens of miles.

Perseverance’s first study points where to look for life

The study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, also analyzed Perseverance’s images of a rock outcropping called Kodiak.

This mound, just over a mile from the rover, is a remnant of the river delta.

mars outcropping dusty rock mesa
The Kodiak delta remnant, photographed by Perseverance on February 22, 2021.

Along Kodiak’s sides, horizontal layers of rock and mineral deposits are exposed. That layering, called stratigraphy, reveals the geological history of the region. And the layers look a lot like those left by river deltas on Earth.

“Never before has such well-preserved stratigraphy been visible on Mars,” Mangold said. “This is the key observation that enables us to once and for all confirm the presence of a lake and river delta at Jezero. Getting a better understanding of the hydrology months in advance of our arrival at the delta is going to pay big dividends down the road.”

These new findings may also help determine where Perseverance should look for fossils of ancient Martian microbes. The river carried grains that fell to the lake floor, eventually settling into sandstone or mudstone that became the bottom layers of the delta slopes. Those falling minerals could have trapped microbes.

“The finest-grained material at the bottom of the delta probably contains our best bet for finding evidence of organics and biosignatures,” Sanjeev Gupta, a Perseverance scientist from Imperial College, London, and a co-author of the paper, said in NASA’s press release. “And the boulders at the top will enable us to sample old pieces of crustal rocks. Both are main objectives for sampling and caching rocks.”

But the new study also raises a big question. It’s not clear what caused Jezero’s flash floods. The researchers speculated that it could have been intense rainfall, rapid snow melt, or glacial activity. Figuring out the source of all that water would tell scientists a lot about the ancient Martian climate.

“We have no proof on Mars of the origin of these floods,” Mangold told TIME. “That is something we want to be able to answer.”

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A NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars snapped a photo of the Perseverance rover in the crater below

The Perseverance rover rolls along the Jezero Crater
NASA’s Perseverance rover treks through the South Séítah, a series of rocky ridges covered by sand dunes.

  • NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter caught a view of Perseverance rolling across the Jezero Crater.
  • The rover was traveling along some of the oldest accessible pieces of rock in the crater.
  • Communication with it may be hard next week as Earth and Mars move to opposite sides of the sun.

In a recent satellite photograph, NASA’s Perseverance rover can be spotted rolling along Mars’ Jezero Crater in search of the next ancient boulder.

The rover, which made landfall after its precise plunge in February, trekked through the dirt to conduct its next series of drillings in its mission to explore the red planet for signs of ancient microbial life.

Perseverance – nicknamed “Percy” – is exploring a region known as South Séítah, which comes from a Navajo phrase meaning “amidst the sand.” The Séítah area contains some of the deepest and perhaps oldest accessible geologic units in the Jezero Crater, according to NASA.

But Percy is familiar with the terrain. In September – after a failed first attempt – the rover completed its first successful drilling operation near South Séítah at a large boulder nicknamed Rochette. NASA hopes to one day return the core rock samples to Earth.

While Percy and its trailing helicopter, Ingenuity, appear to be alone on Mars, the rover has company from above. With the help of its High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – which recently celebrated its 15th year in orbit – surveys the planet in search of signs of water. On the side, the orbiter will snap photos of its rover coworkers in motion.

Earlier this year, the spacecraft captured the Curiosity rover trekking up Mont Mercou, which is part of a hilly region at the base of Mount Sharp – an area observed only from a distance since the rover landed nearby in 2012.

While NASA’s spacecraft are business as usual around the red planet, the rovers and NASA’s remaining fleet are harder to reach. As Earth and Mars move to the opposite sides of the sun – an alignment that occurs every two years – communication can become more difficult, according to NASA.

Between October 2 and 14, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission controllers plan to turn off some instruments, while others will continue sending data to Earth – even though the incoming information could be lost. In the meantime, after sending two weeks’ worth of instructions, some engineers have no choice but to wait until the conjunction ends.

“Like parents who raise youngsters to be responsible and let them go on a short vacation with their friends, they’ve done all they can to ensure the voyagers will be healthy and safe,” NASA wrote.

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NASA has collected its first Mars sample. But it needs $4 billion, 10 years, and new technology to bring the rock to Earth.

perseverance rover gold sample tube with grey rock inside
A rock core inside the Perseverance rover’s sample tube, September 1, 2021.

The finger-width chunk of rock NASA’s Perseverance rover drilled last week is the fruit of a $2.4 billion labor.

The rock is a sample core from a boulder on Mars – the first of many that NASA hopes Perseverance will gather and store in pursuit of a fundamental question: Did Mars ever host microbial life?

The rover’s current location, a 28-mile-wide basin called Jezero Crater, is the ideal place to hunt for an answer. More than 3.5 billion years ago, a river spilled over the edge of the crater and filled it with water. That river very likely carried clay and minerals into the lake, which then fell to the bottom – possibly trapping microbes and enshrining them as fossils in sedimentary stone.

The engineers and scientists who designed and built Perseverance waited nearly 10 years for the rover to reach Jezero Crater and collect its first sample. But they’ll have to wait at least another decade to get their hands on that rock.

perseverance rover on mars takes selfie with ingenuity helicopter
The Perseverance Mars rover standing by NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter.

That’s because NASA has to send a follow-up mission to Mars to retrieve Perseverance’s samples and bring them to Earth. The agency hasn’t yet secured the budget for that project, which could cost $4 billion, nor has it developed the necessary technology.

“Collecting those samples is a first step of one of the most difficult missions ever undertaken,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator, said in a February briefing, before Perseverance landed on Mars.

Although this “Mars Sample Return” mission is still in the proposal phase, NASA estimates it could launch as early as 2026. On that timeline, Perseverance’s samples would land on Earth in 2031.

In the meantime, the agency’s most advanced rover yet will keep roaming Jezero Crater, collecting samples that don’t yet have a way off the red planet.

NASA’s plan is ‘mind-bendingly complicated’

illustration of mini rocket launching from mars lander
An illustration shows how NASA’s Mars Sample Return mission would launch Perseverance’s samples from the surface of Mars.

To get Perseverance’s samples to Earth, NASA must launch two rockets carrying two different spacecraft: a lander and an orbiter.

The lander would be the largest ever sent to Mars, and it would have to touch down in Jezero Crater within 100 yards of the spot where Perseverance stashes its samples. The lander would then roll out a ramp to deploy a “fetch rover” that would gather the tubes and load them into a container aboard a small rocket attached to the lander.

Then NASA would attempt a major first: The rocket must launch the sample container into Mars’s orbit. Nobody has ever launched anything from the surface of Mars.

Once in orbit, the rocket would release the sample container, putting it on a path that would line up with the orbiter (which would be be the largest spacecraft NASA has ever sent to Mars). Then the orbiter must grab the sample container.

illustration of mars sample return mission shows mini rocket releasing small container into mars orbit
An illustration shows a rocket releasing a sample container high above the Martian surface.

With the samples in tow, the orbiter would then journey back to Earth and ultimately drop a small vessel containing the samples. That vessel has to protect the Mars rocks as they plummet through the atmosphere, then deploy parachutes to land them safely on the ground.

The mission will be a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), which is responsible for developing the orbiter and fetch rover.

“It’s really the most extraordinary, mind-bendingly complicated, and will-be-history-making exploration campaign,” David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at the ESA, said in the February briefing.

illustration mars orbiting spacecraft capturing small sample container
An artist’s concept of the Mars Sample Return mission shows an orbiter capturing a sample container.

Last year, though, an independent review board determined that NASA’s timeline and budget for the Mars sample return are too optimistic, SpaceNews reported. The board proposed that NASA allot an extra two years – a 2028 launch and 2033 arrival on Earth – and bump the budget up about $1 billion. NASA had estimated a cost of $2.9 to $3.3 billion, according to SpaceNews, but the review board thought $3.8 to $4.4 billion would be more realistic.

None of those funds have been approved yet, since the mission is still in its proposal phase, and since Congress must approve a new budget for NASA each year.

NASA has already invested heavily in the sample-return project

Perseverance Rover
NASA’s Perseverance rover descends to touch down on Mars in this still image from a video camera, February 18, 2021.

It took a lot of time, labor, and money to get Perseverance to Jezero Crater.

After NASA built and launched the rover, it spent seven months traveling to Mars. Then the robot spent another six months getting set up and watching its helicopter sibling fly.

When it was finally ready to start collecting samples last month, Perseverance tried to drill a rock core, but it crumbled to dust. So it drove to another location over a few weeks, waited for scientists to choose a rock, then drilled a new sample. It sealed the tube containing that core on Monday.

perseverance rover robotic arm holds up golden tube for coring samples against mars plains background
Perseverance used its sample-collection arm to try coring a Mars rock on August 6, 2021.

Perseverance is carrying 42 more tubes. NASA expects to fill many of them over the next year and a half as the rover explores the crater’s ancient river delta. Then, if the robot is still in working order, it might venture up the crater rim and beyond, filling more tubes along the way.

Once Perseverance is spent, it will cache a container full of sample tubes in one of several safe landing spots NASA has identified.

Then those samples will lie in wait until NASA is ready to retrieve them.

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The Perseverance rover has collected a sample of a Mars rock – the first of dozens NASA aims to bring back to Earth

perseverance rover gold sample tube with grey rock inside
A rock core is visible inside the Perseverance rover’s sample tube, September 1, 2021.

NASA’s Perseverance rover has drilled into a rock in Mars’ Jezero Crater and emerged with a finger-sized core of alien stone.

To confirm its catch, the rover beamed photos back to mission controllers on Thursday showing its sample-collection tube filled.

“Now that is one beautifully perfect cored sample, if I do say so myself,” Adam Steltzner, the rover’s chief engineer, said on Twitter.

NASA hopes this core will be the first of many – the rover is carrying 43 such tubes. In about a decade, the agency plans to send another spacecraft to gather those samples and launch them back to Earth. Scientists suspect that, if they can get their hands on Jezero Crater’s rocks, they may find the first strong evidence of ancient alien life.

mars rock with hole in it from perseverance sample drill
The Perseverance rover photographed this Mars rock after drilling a sample core from it, September 1, 2021.

That’s because, more than 3.5 billion of years ago, a river spilled over the edge of this crater and filled it with water. So if Mars ever hosted microbial life, Lake Jezero would be the place to find evidence of it. The river would have carried clay and minerals into the lake, where those materials would have fallen to the bottom – possibly trapping microbes and enshrining them as fossils in sedimentary stone.

To get its first taste of that kind of stone, Perseverance drilled into a different rock last month. But its sample tube came up empty. There was a hole in the rock, but no core to be found.

After some head-scratching, NASA scientists and engineers determined that the rock had simply crumbled into a fine powder. It was too porous and weak to withstand the rover’s drill.

perseverance rover robotic arm holds up golden tube for coring samples against mars plains background
Perseverance used its sample-collection arm to try coring a Mars rock on August 6, 2021.

So Perseverance drove south, to a field of rocks that appeared hardier. The NASA team chose a rock, nicknamed it “Rochette,” and instructed the rover to dust off the spot where it would drill. On Wednesday, the robot made its second attempt to collect a sample. This time, the tube came up full.

Now Perseverance is set to spend the next year and a half roaming the floor of Jezero Crater, climbing the ancient river delta, and drilling new samples as it roams.

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NASA can’t find the Mars rock sample that the Perseverance rover drilled – it mysteriously disappeared

perseverance rover robotic arm holds up golden tube for coring samples against mars plains background
Perseverance used its sample-collection arm to try coring a Mars rock on August 6, 2021.

NASA has spent nine years and about $2 billion in its quest to drill and store samples of Martian rocks. The Perseverance rover was poised to finally make that happen for the first time on Friday.

The rover picked a rock in an ancient Mars lake bed that could have once held alien life, and attempted to drill. But then something strange happened: The sample seems to have vanished without a trace.

There’s a finger-sized hole in the rock where the sample should have come out, but there’s nothing in the rover’s sample-collection tube. And the rock core isn’t laying around anywhere near the hole. It’s just not there.

“While this is not the ‘hole-in-one’ we hoped for, there is always risk with breaking new ground,” NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said in a press release. “I’m confident we have the right team working this, and we will persevere toward a solution to ensure future success.”

empty hole in rock black and white photo
The hole Perseverance drilled into a Mars rock while trying to take its first sample, photographed August 7, 2021.

To figure out what happened, NASA is instructing Perseverance to take close-up pictures of the bore hole it made. Mission controllers will then try to make plans for another sampling attempt.

“The initial thinking is that the empty tube is more likely a result of the rock target not reacting the way we expected during coring, and less likely a hardware issue with the Sampling and Caching System,” Jennifer Trosper, project manager for Perseverance, said in a statement. “Over the next few days, the team will be spending more time analyzing the data we have, and also acquiring some additional diagnostic data to support understanding the root cause for the empty tube.”

Perseverance’s main goal on Mars is to explore a region called Jezero Crater and gather rock samples; the tube that came up empty is one of 43 that the rover is carrying for this purpose. NASA’s long-term plan is to send another mission to Mars in about a decade to collect the samples Perseverance collects and bring them back to Earth. Then future scientists can investigate whether microbial life may have lived in the lake that once filled the basin.

In other words, a significant amount of planning and money is riding on Perseverance’s ability to drill these samples successfully.

Mars is keeping NASA on its toes

perseverance rover shadow looking down on hole in martian rock
Perseverance looks down at the hole it drilled for its first sample collection, August 6, 2021.

In its attempt to take its first sample, Perseverance first used an abrasion tool to clear dust and surface coatings from the rock. Then the rover extended its 7-foot-long arm, which has a sample-collection tool on the end. This tool uses a percussive drill to push a hollow coring bit into the rock.

The entire process is autonomous. Mission controllers simply send a “go” command to Perseverance.

The data the rover has beamed back to Earth from its attempt so far indicates that it carried out the necessary steps exactly as planned. Still, for some reason, the tube is empty.

view looking straight down a gold tube
The empty inside of Perseverance’s first sample-collection tube, August 6, 2021.

The rock Perseverance was trying to sample is typical of the region it’s been driving through. Jezero Crater’s floor is covered in what NASA is calling “paver stones.” These porous rocks could be sedimentary (meaning made by river and lake activity) or volcanic. Taking a sample would help scientists determine which type of rocks line the crater floor, thereby enhancing their understanding of the area’s history.

Other Mars missions have encountered unexpected difficulty from rock and soil, too. NASA recently had to abandon its InSight lander’s “mole,” a probing tool that was supposed to burrow into the Martian crust and measure its temperature. The mole found itself bouncing in place on a foundation of firm soil called “duracrust.”

“I have been on every Mars rover mission since the beginning, and this planet is always teaching us what we don’t know about it,” Trosper said. “One thing I’ve found is, it’s not unusual to have complications during complex, first-time activities.”

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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.
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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.

Mars_Perseverance_ZL0_0058_0672089556_654ECV_N0032046ZCAM05032_110050J
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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