After more than a year of accomplishments, NASA has extended flight operations for the Mars Innovation helicopter through September.
The space agency’s $2.2 billion spacecraft touched down on Mars on February 18, 2021, allowing an experimental Ingenuity helicopter to take a flight to the Red Planet.
The persistent six-wheeled rover has made remarkable discoveries and achievements in its first year, such as breaking the record for the longest distance a rover has traveled on Mars in a single day. It traveled nearly 1,050 feet on February 14, 2022.
Meanwhile, Ingenuity becomes the first aircraft to make a controlled flight and land on another world on April 21, 2021.
One year after this achievement, NASA says It is expanding the mission of the 4-pound helicopters after the helicopter’s 21st successful flight, the first of at least three helicopters needed to cross the northwest portion of the area known as “Sittah” and reach its next launch area.
“Less than a year ago, we didn’t even know if it was possible to fly a powered and controlled plane to Mars,” Thomas Zurbuchen said:Associate Director of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Now, we look forward to Ingenuity’s participation in the second science expedition to persevere. Such a shift in mindset in such a short period is simply amazing, and one of the most historic in the annals of air and space exploration.”
The next step in Ingenuity is a trip to a new territory with a completely different terrain filled with jagged slopes, angular surfaces and other pockets that might be challenging for a rover. NASA says the new site is several miles wide and shaped by an ancient river, and a fan-shaped delta rises more than 130 feet above the crater floor.
Once there, Ingenuity will investigate two dry river channels and help record future routing assistance for perseverance.
“The Jezero River Delta campaign will be the creativity team’s biggest challenge since its first trip to Mars,” said Teddy Zanitos, Creative Team Leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. NASA. “To enhance our chances of success, we have increased the size of our team and are making upgrades to our flight program geared toward improving operational flexibility and flight safety.”
With the help of creativity, the rover continues to collect rock samples. Percy collected six, but experts hope to have at least 20 samples from the surface of Mars by the end of the mission.
Pieces of rock and soil will remain in airtight tubes until they are lowered into an easily accessible location by a future mission. NASA and the European Space Agency have a plan to recover Mars samples with a series of missions in the next decade.
NASA says If they succeed in obtaining the samples in laboratories, the deposits will be examined by scientists for signs of past life on Mars and be part of other studies.