Mars helicopter completes 12th flight, provides important science

NASA helicopter assisting rover with travel on Mars

The small helicopter that landed on Mars with rover Perseverance has exceeded expectations and has flown for the 12th time on the red planet, capturing the landscape like never before.

The small helicopter that landed on Mars with rover Perseverance has exceeded expectations, flying for the 12th time on the red planet and capturing the landscape like never before.

NASA’s small helicopter Ingenuity has been flying on Mars for weeks, helping with the science mission after arriving with the Mars rover.

Perseverance is looking for places with sedimentary rocks, or areas where water used to flow, and -- just as importantly -- a safe route to and from those places. It was originally thought that Perseverance needed to drive farther west to find what it was looking for, but Ingenuity has found rocks much closer to the south, which would save time if they decided to drive that way.

The helicopter’s 12th flight was the its longest one yet: nearly three minutes!

NASA’s 4-pound chopper Ingenuity completed its first successful flight on April 19 -- the first ever powered flight by an aircraft on another planet -- after landing on Mars with rover Perseverance earlier this year. Officials only expected to attempt maybe five or six flights with the chopper, but now the scientists are using Ingenuity for data.

Without Ingenuity, scientists would have to identify safe routes for the rover using high-resolution satellite images from orbit -- so, much further away. With its latest flights, the helicopter has been helping to plan a safe route for Perseverance.

Related: Want to pretend to live on Mars? For a whole year? Apply now

A note on Perseverance: The rover attempted to drill its first core sample on Mars! Such samples will be returned to Earth about 10 years from now.

However, the rock that Perseverance drilled into ended up being so soft that it crumbled, so there was no core sample to collect this time around. The rover will move on to another, harder rock and try again.

Read more: NASA blames Mars rover sampling fiasco on bad, powdery rock

NASA successfully landed its Mars rover Perseverance on Feb. 18 this year near an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. Perseverance is now the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars since the 1970s, and each of those spacecrafts have been from the U.S.

Over the next two years, the rover will collect rock samples containing possible signs of bygone microscopic life, which will eventually be retrieved by another rover and brought back to Earth by another rocket ship.

More: Check out these new photos from Mars Rover ‘Perseverance’

About the Author:

Local 4 meteorologist Paul Gross was born in Detroit and has spent his entire life and career right here in southeast Michigan. Paul has researched, written and produced eight half-hour documentaries for WDIV, as well as many science, historical and environmental stories.