NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter spots debris on its leg on latest flight

Something strange is afoot on a Martian helicopter.

The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, which is exploring Jezero Crater along with its rover partner Perseverance, had something stuck to its foot on a recent flight. Engineers caught the debris on camera during Ingenuity's 33rd flight above the Red Planet in late September, and noted that imagery showed the debris flew off the little helicopter. (While it looks like a bit of a cobweb or a Twinkie wrapper, we can at least rest assured it's not aliens.)

Footage from the mission's NavCam shows the debris falling naturally back to the surface partway through the flight, before Ingenuity made a safe touchdown back on the sands of Mars.

Related: It's still not aliens: 'Mars bug' claim could damage the search for life 

Ingenuity's 33rd flight on Mars in September 2022 featured a piece of debris flying off the drone. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"All telemetry from the flight and a post-flight search and transfer are nominal and show no indication of vehicle damage. The Ingenuity and Perseverance Mars 2020 teams are working to discern the source of the debris," officials from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote in a statement.

Ingenuity is flying well into an extended mission. The drone is the first ever to fly above Mars and was originally rated for five flights. Now it's about to break that mark by sevenfold.

The Ingenuity drone on Mars had a piece of debris on its leg during its 33rd flight in September 2022. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA is seeking to test Ingenuity as much as possible, especially as the agency plans to put Mars helicopters into play for a future sample return mission

Perseverance is on a long-term quest to pick up the most promising samples for closer examination on Earth, as scientists seek more answers as to whether life on Mars was possible in the ancient past. 

In the meantime, Ingenuity is acting as a test scout for Perseverance as the rover continues to explore an ancient river delta. Water on Mars is one of the key areas of study as scientists continue to discuss the planet's habitability.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, 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 a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: