On the 31st Martian mission, an ingenious helicopter travels toward an old river delta


NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter captured this image on Sept. 6, 2022 during its 31st Red Planet flight. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter captured this image on Sept. 6, 2022 during its 31st Red Planet flight. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA's Ingenuity chopper just completed its 31st mission on Mars, flying a small distance closer to an old Red Planet river delta. According to the mission team's flight record, the 4-pound (1.8 kg) Ingenuity flew for approximately 56 seconds and covered around 318 feet (97 meters) of horizontal distance during the Mars mission on Tuesday (Sept. 6).


The flight route carried Ingenuity toward the ruins of a long-dry river delta that NASA's Perseverance rover has been examining for the past five months or so. In February 2021, Ingenuity and Perseverance arrived together inside the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) Jezero Crater, which housed the river delta and large lake.


Perseverance is searching for evidence of ancient Mars life and collecting rock samples for eventual return to Earth. Ingenuity is acting as a scout for the Perseverance team, assisting them in selecting the best driving routes and identifying scientifically viable rock targets. Ingenuity was conceived as a technology demonstration for a five-flight mission to demonstrate that rotorcraft flying is viable in the Martian atmosphere, which is just 1% as thick as that of Earth at sea level. Ingenuity excelled at its primary objective and was quickly awarded an extension to continue its present, more specialized reconnaissance activity.


The flight on Tuesday was Ingenuity's first since a 33-second jump on Aug. 20 that covered only 6.5 feet (2 m) of Martian terrain. The Aug. 20 mission was intended largely to brush the dust off Ingenuity's solar panels and ensure that the little robot was still in flying condition after two months of idleness. Ingenuity had been stranded on Jezero's floor since June 11, waiting out the cold and dusty winter weather.

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