Ingenuity, the small helicopter that’s been buzzing around the Red Planet for almost three years, has taken its final flight. NASA announced today that at least one of the helicopter’s carbon fiber rotor blades was damaged during its last mission, grounding it for good.
To say that Ingenuity had a remarkable run is a bit of an understatement: the helicopter was launched as a technology demonstration mission, with engineers hoping to achieve up to five flights with the vehicle. As NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained in a statement today, Ingenuity was up against the very, very thin Martian atmosphere, which is less than 1% as dense as Earth’s.
There are other challenges, too: Mars is known for epic dust storms, very cold temperatures, and the thin atmosphere does little to shield radiation. But despite all of these challenges, Ingenuity ended up performing 72 flights, collectively traveling 11 miles and climbing up to 79 feet at the highest altitude.
The autonomous helicopter took to the skies for the first time on April 19, 2021. It arrived on the Red Planet attached to the underside of the Perseverance rover, which is still active on Mars’ surface. Ingenuity acted as a scout for the rover, checking out sites and collecting critical photo and video.
“Like the Wright brothers, Ingenuity has paved the way for future flight in our solar system, and its leading the way for smarter, safer human missions to Mars and beyond,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the agency is still investigating the possibility that the damaged blade struck the ground. Just last week, NASA experienced a two-day communications blackout with the little helicopter after it conducted what turned out to be its final flight.