NASA's Mars Helicopter Snaps Stunning Photos Of Otherworldly Wreckage On The Red Planet
The Perseverance rover landed intact on Mars back on February 18, 2021. Since then it has provided a plethora of data and imagery of the red planet, helping scientists to obtain a higher level of understanding of the terrain and other details concerning Mars. Perseverance also brought along a companion in NASA's Ingenuity helicopter. It has provided unprecedented video and imagery of the Martian terrain since it took its first flight, and led engineers with the Mars Sample Return program to wonder if it could also provide a unique perspective of the wreckage where the two spacecraft first landed.
"NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this," stated Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity's team lead at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "Every time we're airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Mars Sample Return's reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars."
Having a detailed look at the remains of the parachute and backshell could lend critical information to those designing spacecraft for future missions to Mars and other planets. While descending through Mars' atmosphere, the spacecraft traveled at a breakneck speed of approximately 12,500 mph (20,000 kph). The vehicle endured gravitational forces, intense heat, and other extremes as it made its way through the atmosphere.
Ian Clark, an engineer who worked on Perseverance's parachute system, stated, "Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown. But Ingenuity's images offer a different vantage point." He added, "If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing."
Ingenuity captured the images during a 159-second long flight on April 19th. It also marked the one-year anniversary of its first flight. The helicopter ascended 26 feet (8 meters) above ground level, and traveled 630 feet (192 meters) to the southeast, before heading southwest and then northwest. After collecting 10 images in its flash memory, Ingenuity headed west for 246 feet (75 meters) and landed. Flight 26 of the Mars helicopter traveled a total distance of 3.9 miles (6.2 kilometers).
Clark said of the wreckage, "There's definitely a sci-fi element to it. It exudes otherworldly, doesn't it?"
Top Image Courtesy of NASA/JPL