NASA’s Stranded Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Bids Farewell In Touching Final Messages

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Engineers who worked on NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter gathered one last time in a control room, marking the final time they would work together on Ingenuity operations. While the mission ended on January 25, 2024, the Mars helicopter will continue to serve as a testbed for collecting data that may benefit future missions.

Ingenuity was initially designed to only last a short time once it reached the Martian surface on April 3, 2021. However, as luck would have it, the helicopter proved to be more durable, making an incredible 72 flights over the surface of Mars. Ingenuity flew for 128.8 minutes, covering 10.5 miles, while reaching altitudes as high as 78.7 feet. Even after all those flights and surviving the harsh conditions on the Red Planet, the team is hopeful that the aircraft can still glean valuable data as a fixed landmark on Mars.

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“With apologies to Dylan Thomas, Ingenuity will not be going gently into that good Martian night,” remarked Josh Anderson, Ingenuity team lead at JPL. “It is almost unbelievable that after over 1,000 Martian days on the surface, 72 flights, and one rough landing, she still has something to give. And thanks to the dedication of this amazing team, not only did Ingenuity overachieve beyond our wildest dreams, but also it may teach us new lessons in the years to come.”

NASA’s helicopter met an untimely demise following a hard landing on its last flight, which damaged its rotor blades. Leaving the aircraft unable to fly, it will remain at “Valinor Hills” while Perseverance roams out of communication distance in order to explore the western limb of Jezero Crater.

As the team reviewed the latest data from over 189 million miles away, they celebrated the life of Ingenuity and the fact it had successfully received a software update, and was operating as expected. The new software provided new commands that will direct Ingenuity to continue collecting data long after it is out of range to communicate with the Perseverance rover. The team’s final gathering included a farewell message from Ingenuity, which featured the names of people who worked on the mission.

Now that Ingenuity has a new directive, it will awaken daily, activate its flight computers, and test the performance of its solar panel, batteries, and electronic equipment. It will also take a picture of the Martian surface with its color camera, as well as collect temperature data from sensors throughout the craft. The team hopes this additional data will serve useful for planning future missions to Mars. Ingenuity’s onboard memory is believed to be able to hold about 20 years’ worth of daily data.

“Whenever humanity revisits Valinor Hills — either with a rover, a new aircraft, or future astronauts — Ingenuity will be waiting with her last gift of data, a final testament to the reason we dare mighty things,” explained Ingenuity’s project manager, Teddy Tzanetos of JPL. “Thank you, Ingenuity, for inspiring a small group of people to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds at the frontiers of space.”

Farewell Ingenuity. May your time grounded on Mars prove as spectacular as the time you spent hovering above the surface of Mars.