NASA has penciled in another flight for its Ingenuity helicopter, marking the small helicopter's 41st flight across the surface of the Red Planet.
For those that didn't know, NASA landed its Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars back in February 2021. Since then, the rover has been exploring the barren plains of the Jezero Crater, looking for any signs of ancient microbial life. Ingenuity has acted as a scout for Perseverance, flying around the rover and observing the surface, looking for any potential hazards the rover and its operators should know about.
With the information gathered by Ingenuity's flights, the Perseverance team is able to make the most efficient path for the rover whenever it needs to travel next. The 41st flight for Ingenuity happened on January 27, when the helicopter covered 600 feet in horizontal distance in just 109 seconds. NASA called this flight an "out-and-back flight" as the helicopter took off, flew to its destination, and then back to land in its original spot.
Ingenuity has shattered all of NASA's expectations as engineers only tasked it with five flights. NASA is so impressed with the technology that it's going to design two more helicopters that will act as a backup plan in the space agency's complex method for getting Mars samples back on Earth. The space agency plans on instructing its Perseverance rover to transport the samples it currently has stored in its belly to a NASA lander that will then take them to orbit for the long trip back to Earth.
In the event that Perseverance cannot complete the trip to the lander, NASA will use two Ingenuity-inspired helicopters to collect Perseverance's backup cache of samples. Notably, Perseverance has twin samples, and 10 of the doubles were recently dropped off onto the surface of Mars in preparation for the sample return mission.
Once the samples have been transported to NASA's lander, they will then blast off to orbit and be given to a European Space Agency probe for the journey back to Earth. NASA expects that the samples will arrive back on Earth as early as 2033. For more recent space news, check out the below link.