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Helicopter Memories: NASA's mission that conducted historic flights on Mars ends after an accident  Sciences

Helicopter Memories: NASA's mission that conducted historic flights on Mars ends after an accident Sciences

The photo shows NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on the Martian floor on April 7, 2023. – Image: NASA

NASA's Ingenuity mini-helicopter, which entered the Guinness Book of World Records with The longest journey on Marsretired this month after damage caused by the emergency landing.

It has been a mission full of scientific advances over more than 3 years: the major achievement in particular being the first vehicle built by humanity to undertake powered and controlled flight on another planet.

According to NASA, the end of the mission was due to damage to its propeller – or more than one, as the North American space agency does not yet know with certainty the extent of the damage caused by the accident that occurred after a vertical flight. (See photo below).

“This remarkable helicopter has flown higher and farther than we ever imagined, helping NASA do what we do best: make the impossible possible,” said Bill Nelson, the agency's administrator.

🚀🔴The initial idea was to serve as a short-term technological test device. But within three years, the helicopter was completed 72 tripsThis greatly exceeds NASA's expectations.

During these flights, she spent more than two hours in the air and traveling 18 kmExceeding the planned route by more than 14 times.

“It's almost an exaggeration to say that [o Ingenuity] “It has exceeded our expectations,” added Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Below, in 4 points, understand the key milestones of this successful mission:

Following its 72nd flight on January 18, 2024, Ingenuity captured this image showing the shadow of a damaged rotor blade during a hard landing. – Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

1. The first flight on another planet

📏 At that time, the helicopter rose to a height 3 metres, soared and then landed On the surface of Mars.

The Perseverance rover, which was parked in the Van Zyl Overlook area about 64.3 meters away in Jezero Crater, recorded the flight operations with its cameras. (See gif below).

Unlike creativity, persistence is still fully functional. It's even on the planet as part of NASA's Mars exploration program.

This is because the goal of the project is not only to better understand the star's formation and initial evolution, but also to analyze the star's history. Geological processes Which shaped Mars over time and scientifically explains whether the planet could ever host life.

Ingenuity's maiden flight, April 19, 2021. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

2. Guinness Record Flight

Within four weeks of operation, Ingenuity made more than four flights, totaling 499 seconds and traveling 357 horizontal meters above the surface of Mars.

But almost a year later, on April 8, 2022, he set several records with his 25th flight, when he flew… 704 metres By Jezero Crater.

Officially, according to Guinness, this was the farthest journey on Mars to date.

On the same date, the helicopter also set a new record for ground speed (5.5 meters per second) and another for flight duration (161.3 seconds).

At the time, the black and white navigation camera recorded this as well.

The device provided real-time data to Ingenuity's navigation processor, allowing it to interact with the terrain as it conducted its operations. (see below).

Ingenuity's historic 25th flight, on April 8, 2022. – Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

3. Revealing the secrets of Martian dust

Twelve days later, when NASA controllers attempted a short vertical flight to locate the helicopter, it took off but quickly began to descend before losing contact with Perseverance. According to NASA, it was necessary to make an emergency landing, which led to damage to the device.

But despite this failure in Flight 72, creativity showed that it was possible to fly on Mars. And beyond that: It also showed how atmospheric exploration could help with future missions on the Red Planet and other worlds.

☄️🌪️ Using data from your flights, scientists have previously studied, for example, Martian dust dynamicsMeasuring the size of the clouds lifted by the helicopter and determining their density, size, and how they are dispersed in the Martian atmosphere.

This analysis is important for several reasons. First, understanding the amount of dust kicked up by Ingenuity helped NASA engineers predict how dust would affect visibility during future flybys of other missions, ensuring safe operations on Mars.

Ingenuity photographed Perseverance during its third flight. At that time, the small helicopter was about 85 meters from the rover and flying sideways at an altitude of 5 metres. One of Ingenuity's feet is also visible at the edge of the image, just below the rover. – Image: NASA

4. Setting off for future tasks

It can be said, then, that the Ingenuity mission was also intended to help understand the geology of Mars, which is essential to prepare for a possible manned mission to the planet.

The project is part of NASA's “Moon to Mars” exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

A NASA illustration shows the robots and helicopters that will join the mission on the Red Planet to collect rock and soil samples from the surface of Mars. – Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Previously, NASA intended to transport a new robot to Mars to be built by the European Space Agency, which would transfer scientific materials collected by Perseverance to a rocket built by the Americans.

Now, the mission intends to have Perseverance move on its own to the landing module where that rocket will be parked.

Rover Perseverance is working around a rocky outcrop called “Skinner Ridge” in Jezero Crater on Mars. – Image: NASA/Disclosure

However, if the robot fails this mission, that's where the new helicopters come in: The two pieces of equipment being built will carry Perseverance samples.

Every helicopter being Designed to transport one sample tube from the robot at a time, making multiple round trips.

The agencies hope this new strategy will reduce the complexity of future missions to Mars and increase the likelihood of the space program's success.

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