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.
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.
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.