Perseverance rover spots Ingenuity helicopter's snapped-off rotor blade on Mars (photos)

a blurry helicopter visible on the surface of mars. an inset image shows a blade on the sand
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on the sands of Mars, with its blade visible in the inset image. (Image credit: Ingenuity: NASA/JPL-Caltech/edited by Steve Spaleta. Blade: NASA/JPL-Caltech/edited by Josh Dinner. Overlay: Edited by Elizabeth Howell)

The blade was broken — and, still unforged, it's been found on Mars.

Space fans scouring the raw images from NASA's Perseverance rover recently spotted the broken helicopter blade from Ingenuity lying on the sands of Mars. Ingenuity is permanently grounded as a result of the blade-snapping incident, a hard landing that occurred at the end of its Jan. 18 flight.

"Nestled in the vibrant red Martian sand, a lonely blade from NASA's Ingenuity helicopter lies about 15 meters [50 feet] from the aircraft's final resting place," the nonprofit Planetary Society wrote Tuesday (Feb. 27) on X, formerly Twitter.

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

Geovisual design student Simeon Schmauß also processed the Perserverance imagery, captured by the rover's powerful SuperCam instrument, into a composite view that shows both the helicopter and its now distant blade. Schmauß shared the results on X, visible below as well.

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Ingenuity's flying days ended after 72 flights — 67 more than the five originally planned for its technology-demonstrating mission. The 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) drone was the first vehicle ever to take flight on Mars after landing with Perseverance in February 2021, and kept going for nearly three years.

Perseverance imagery downloaded from Mars on Sunday (Feb. 25) showed the broken-off Ingenuity blade. But hidden in shadow in some of the raw imagery was the blade itself, barely visible in Martian dunes.

NASA's Perseverance rover captured the broken-off blade of Ingenuity on Mars on Feb. 25, 2024 using its SuperCam imager. This image has been enhanced to make the blade more visible on the sand. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/edited by Josh Dinner)

The helicopter, operating in Mars' Jezero Crater, demonstrated flight was not only possible but could be done regularly in the Red Planet's thin atmosphere

After its initial five hops, Ingenuity shifted to a long extended mission in which it was scouting ahead for Perseverance, which is collecting samples for a possible eventual return to Earth (pending funding and technology development for the Mars sample return campaign, whose budget has been under discussion in Congress lately).

What finally downed Ingenuity was a sandy patch of terrain that did not have rocks or other navigation aids to help the helicopter to find its way. As Ingenuity came in for landing, the blade snapped as it hit the ground. But the helicopter, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), had already cemented its legacy as a spaceflight pioneer, agency officials said.

"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."

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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 Space.com 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: https://qoto.org/@howellspace

  • bolide
    "The blade was broken — and, still unforged, it's been found ... "

    Sounds like a quote from something. What's the allusion?
    Reply