Ingenuity, the little Mars helicopter that could, can’t anymore.
At least one rotor broke during the robotic flying machine’s most recent flight last week, NASA officials announced on Thursday. Ingenuity remains in contact with its companion, the Perseverance rover, which has been exploring a dried-up river bed for signs of extinct Martian life.
Ingenuity will now be left behind.
“It is bittersweet that I must announce that Ingenuity, the little helicopter that could — and it kept saying, ‘I think I can, I think I can’ — well, it has now taken its last flight on Mars,” Bill Nelson, the NASA administrator, announced in a video message posted on X.
Ingenuity arrived on Mars in the undercarriage of the Perseverance rover in February 2021. The rover dropped Ingenuity to the ground, and then on April 19, 2021, Ingenuity became the first plane or helicopter to take off on another planet, the aircraft’s rotors spinning 2,400 times a second to generate sufficient lift in an atmosphere that is only one one-hundredth as dense as Earth’s. NASA officials called the flight a “Wright Brothers’ moment” for planetary exploration.
The plan then was to conduct a demonstration of the novel technology: five flights in 30 days.
Perseverance was then to leave Ingenuity behind and begin studying ancient sedimentary rocks along the rim of Jezero crater, which held a lake of water several billion years ago.
Ingenuity aced the five flights, and it worked so well that mission managers decided to bring the helicopter along to scout the terrain ahead of the rover.
Over the next thousand days, Ingenuity continued to go up and down, up and down, up and down. It suffered glitches along the way, making three emergency landings. It survived dust storms and the cold Martian winter that the aircraft was not designed for. Engineers upgraded its software so that Ingenuity could choose its own landing sites.
On Jan. 18, during its 72nd flight, Ingenuity fell out of touch with Perseverance while descending, about three feet above the surface. Communications were re-established the next day, but photos a few days later revealed the damaged rotor blade.
The Ingenuity team will conduct a few final tests on Ingenuity’s systems and download images and data remaining in the helicopter’s memory.
NASA engineers are investigating what caused the dropout in communication and whether the rotor blade hit the ground when Ingenuity landed.
This is a developing story and will be updated.