NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity keeps giving us great bird’s-eye views of otherworldly terrain.
Last Monday (Aug. 16), the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) chopper aced its 12th flight on the Red Planet, a sortie designed to scout out the “South Séítah” region of Jezero Crater for NASA’s Perseverance rover.
Perseverance’s main tasks are hunting for signs of ancient Mars life and collecting samples for future return to Earth. The car-sized rover failed in its first sample-collecting attempt earlier this month, however, thwarted by unexpectedly powdery Red Planet rock.
Perseverance is now heading toward the geologically intriguing South Séítah area, where the mission team hopes and expects to find rocks better suited for the rover’s sampling setup. Ingenuity’s observations are helping the rover team plan Perseverance’s route to South Séítah and its activities in the area.
South Séítah is diverse and rugged, as shown by the imagery Ingenuity collected during its 169-second-long flight on Aug. 16. The footage shows the helicopter soaring over rippling sand dunes and jutting boulders, its insectlike shadow passing ghostlike over hazards the Perseverance team aims to avoid.
Ingenuity cruised at an altitude of 33 feet (10 meters) and covered a total of 1,476 feet (450 m) of horizontal distance on the jaunt, according to the flight log maintained by the helicopter team. Though most of Ingenuity’s other flights have been one-way trips, this latest one was a loop, with the little copter taking off from and landing at the same airfield.
Ingenuity is a technology demonstrator designed to show that aerial exploration is possible on Mars. The helicopter was originally tasked with performing up to five flights during a one-month campaign, but it has performed so well that NASA granted an extended mission focused on showcasing the scouting potential of Martian helicopters.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.