Ingenuity Mars helicopter notches 33rd Red Planet flight

small drone in front of a rocky hill with cloudy red sky in the background
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter on the Martian surface. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS)

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter has taken flight again, staying aloft for nearly a minute this past weekend on its 33rd extraterrestrial sortie. 

Ingenuity, which is a part of NASA's life-seeking Perseverance rover mission, took to the skies of Mars on Saturday (Sept. 24), achieving a flight of just over 55 seconds. The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) rotorcraft soared roughly 33 feet (10 meters) in the air and moved about 365 ft (111 meters) before alighting in a new location, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages the missions of both Ingenuity and Perseverance.

"If you look closely at this image, you’ll see Ingenuity’s leg and tiny shadow," JPL officials said via Twitter on Tuesday (opens in new tab) (Sept. 27).

Ingenuity is helping Perseverance explore Jezero Crater, which hosted a lake and a river delta in the ancient past. Later in the 2020s, NASA and the European Space Agency together plan to launch a sample-return mission to the region, which will use helicopters much like Ingenuity to pick up samples gathered by Perseverance and haul them to a rocket for a launch back to Earth.

The team has framed the sample-return mission, and Perseverance's cache of samples, as crucial to help understand the history of the Red Planet and the potential for life on Mars.

black and white photo of martian surface with a small helicopter shadow at bottom left

Ingenuity's shadow is visible at the bottom left of this image during its 33rd flight, on Sept. 24, 2022. (Image credit: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Perseverance, meanwhile, met some challenges while trying to perform a rock abrasion earlier in the week. A blog post (opens in new tab) Wednesday (Sept. 28) from JPL said the rock, nicknamed "Chiniak," completely broke apart after the Martian surface reacted in an unexpected way to Perseverance's tools.

"While we had to forgo abrasion proximity science on this target, we gained information about the cohesiveness and strength of the rock and had the opportunity to observe and compare both freshly broken and weathered rock surfaces," Eleanor Moreland, a Ph.D. student at Rice University, wrote in the post.

"Thanks to the quick work of the science and engineers, a new target was selected for a successful abrasion just a couple of days later," Moreland added.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace