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.
"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.
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.