Ingenuity Mars helicopter snapped rotor blade during hard landing last month (video, photo)

There's no way Ingenuity could fly through this.

Ingenuity, the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) helicopter that journeyed to Mars with NASA's Perseverance rover, was grounded for good after suffering a hard landing during a Jan. 18 flight.

New observations by Perseverance show just how rough that touchdown was and make it easy to understand why Ingenuity is now a frozen feature of the Martian landscape.

Related: NASA to 'wiggle' broken Ingenuity Mars helicopter's blades to analyze damage

Zoomed-in view of NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter, captured by the SuperCam remote imager aboard the agency's Perseverance rover on Feb. 25, 2024. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/edited by Steve Spaleta)

We already knew that the Jan. 18 landing broke off the tip of at least one of Ingenuity's four rotors; a selfie snapped by the little chopper shortly thereafter made that plain.

That damage by itself was enough to end Ingenuity's flying days on Mars, mission team members said at the time. Helicopters must be perfectly balanced to maintain controlled flight, and losing bits of a rotor robbed Ingenuity of that balance.

But the drone lost more than just a rotor tip. The new Perseverance photos, which the rover took with its SuperCam remote imager on Sunday (Feb. 25), show that at least one of Ingenuity's four rotor blades snapped clean off on Jan. 18.

This image, which shows the shadow of a damaged rotor on NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity, was taken after its 72nd and final flight on Jan. 18, 2024 on the Red Planet. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Ingenuity and Perseverance landed together on the floor of Mars' Jezero Crater in February 2021. Two months later, the rotorcraft deployed from the rover's belly and began its prime mission, a five-flight campaign designed to show that powered flight is possible on Mars despite the planet's thin atmosphere.

Ingenuity aced that campaign, then shifted to an extended mission during which it served as a scout for the life-hunting, sample-collecting Perseverance. The helicopter racked up a whopping 67 sorties during this phase of its Mars operations, which were led (like those of Perseverance) by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.

Its final flight occurred over a sandy patch of terrain that lacked prominent rocks and other features that Ingenuity relied on for navigation, mission team members said. Ingenuity could not stick the landing, and its fast-spinning blades hit the ground.

The helicopter's legacy is assured. Ingenuity was the first vehicle ever to achieve powered flight in the skies of a world beyond Earth, and its success will pave the way for other aerial explorers.

"The NASA JPL team didn't just demonstrate the technology," Tiffany Morgan, deputy director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said during a Jan. 31 webcast tribute to Ingenuity. "They demonstrated an approach that if we use in the future will really help us to explore other planets and be as awe-inspiring, as amazing, as Ingenuity has been."

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • Stuartbedward
    Could they tip it over on its side, turn the blades on full power, let it dig up the sand, then let the rover go over an analyze what was dug up?