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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

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, 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