NASA's experimental Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, has now flown eight times on the Red Planet, traveling farther than scientists hoped would be possible.
The little chopper made its most recent Mars sortie on Monday (June 21). During the flight, Ingenuity remained aloft for 77.4 seconds, flew 525 feet (160 meters), and landed about 440 feet (133.5 m) away from its companion, the Perseverance rover, according to a tweet from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which operates the helicopter.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstration project that hitchhiked to Mars with NASA's much larger Perseverance rover, which touched down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18. Before beginning its science work in earnest, Perseverance began its stay on Mars by testing the helicopter and another technology project that can turn carbon dioxide from the Red Planet's thin atmosphere into oxygen.
Monday's flight came about two weeks after Ingenuity's previous flight, on June 8. The success of the new flight marks a second flawless flight for the helicopter after a difficult sixth flight that tested the chopper's resilience.
Although Ingenuity was originally designed to fly only five times, its steady successes encouraged the agency to extend its mission and experiment with more ambitious flights. Whereas the helicopter's early flights began and ended in the same place, dubbed Wright Brothers Field after pioneers of flight on Earth, Ingenuity is now soaring from one new airfield to another.
So while NASA has not yet announced when the helicopter will make a ninth flight, definitely expect such an outing to come sooner or later.
According to SpaceNews reporter Jeff Foust, the helicopter may keep exploring for months. Speaking with a group that advises NASA about Mars exploration, the project scientist of the Mars 2020 mission, which includes both Perseverance and Ingenuity, said that Ingenuity could make "a couple flights a month" for "a few more months," Foust reported.
Those sorties would see the helicopter keep pace with Perseverance's own travels on Mars to better understand how rovers and aircraft can conduct science work in tandem.
Meanwhile, Perseverance faces its own ambitious agenda, focused on evaluating the past habitability of its landing site, Jezero Crater, and stashing away intriguing rock samples for a later mission to carry to laboratories on Earth for more detailed analysis.
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