Science and technology

The announcement

Ingenuity's last flight: the NASA helicopter on Mars has completed its mission

He hit a shovel on the surface after 72 takeoffs on the Red Planet

01/26/2024

Reuters/Nasa

It showed us the colors of the 'Faillefeu' hill and the rocks of Mars, made us listen to the sound of its blades, conquered record after record, far exceeding expectations each time and providing a series of fundamental data for the design of future aircraft still more complex and supportive of planetary exploration.

Now the Ingenuity "drone" helicopter has finished its mission after 72 flights over the Red Planet.

"Flight 72. This is the last flight of Ingenuity #MarsHelicopter. Ingenuity and its team have demonstrated that powered and controlled flight on another world is possible": this is NASA's announcement on X.

In 2021, Ingenuity became the first powered device to fly on another planet, thus demonstrating that it was possible to fly in Martian air, whose density is only 1% of that of Earth's atmosphere.

Originally the helicopter was supposed to take off only five times, but thanks to its excellent performance, the mission was extended until today. 

During its 72nd flight last week, the helicopter reached an altitude of 12 meters, but communication was abruptly cut shortly before landing.

It was finally able to be restored the next day, but NASA teams were able to observe "damage" to one rotor blade.

“Ingenuity has achieved far beyond what we thought possible,” NASA chief Bill Nelson said in a video. The helicopter “paved the way for future flights in our solar system.” 

"We may never know" what exactly happened, due to the temporary loss of data transmission at the end of the last flight, stressed Teddy Tzanetos, mission director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at a press conference.

“But our engineering judgment leads us to think that during the descent a blade hit the surface of Mars.”

The helicopter therefore does not have the necessary thrust to fly.

The cause of the communication breakdown is still under investigation, but it may be related to the impact itself, Tzanetos said, adding that other blades were likely damaged, which NASA crews are still trying to confirm. 

The American space agency is already working on another flying machine project, as part of the Dragonfly mission ("dragonfly" in French), this time with destination Titan, Saturn's largest moon.