Goodbye to The Little Mars Helicopter That Could

Almost three years ago, I wrote about “The Little Helicopter That Could” – Ingenuity – the first rotocopter to fly on another planet. The mission would have been considered a success if it just got off the ground (and more ideally performed 5 experimental test flights following), and instead it lasted for nearly 3 years and completed 72 flights. Ingenuity flew 14x further than was originally planned (10.5 miles in total), logged over 2 hours of Martian flight time, and reached altitudes as high as 79 feet. You can check out its achievements here and see the flight path it followed out of Jezero Crater delta below. (Ingenuity is in green with its rover companion, Perseverance, following behind in orange.

So, what happened? Sadly, on a recent flight, Ingenuity had to perform an emergency landing, which damaged one of its rotorblades and rendered it incapable of flight (you can see the frayed edges below in the photo taken of its shadow). The reason is thought to be because the patch of land it was flying over was “too bland” and lacked the rocks and markers Ingenuity uses to navigate.

The success of this mission will undoubtedly spur sending more helicopters to Mars (and other planets) as they can cover more ground than a rover and uncover interesting places for them to explore and sample. So long tiny ‘copter, and thanks for all the Martian views! 

Views of the sandy Martian landscape taken in December 2023