When Perseverance rover landed on Mars, it brought along a little helicopter in its belly. The helicopter, named Ingenuity, was a 30-day technology demonstration sent to see if we could fly an aircraft in the very thin Martian atmosphere.
As is often with NASA’s robotic missions to Mars in recent times, it did that, and exceeded all expectations. It became a companion to the rover and performed about 70 flights over the nearly three years that it flew on Mars. Then last month it encountered an accident that left one of its propeller damaged. That ended the mission.
I’ve been fascinated by this little flying helicopter and have often looked at the photos it was sending back. So much so that I have now compiled a video of all the photos taken by the navigation camera on Ingenuity. This downward pointing camera photographs the ground below it, and so the helicopter is always seen by its shadow, scuttling about the Martian landscape for a cumulative 17 km (10.5 miles) over its mission timeline.
No doubt, Ingenuity has shown that a flying robot is a very useful tool in exploring Mars, like wheeled rovers showed over the last few decades. Perhaps enough that future missions will bring more along.