NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, the first powered aircraft ever to fly on another world, just captured aerial photographs of the wrecked remains of some of the components that helped deliver it and its companion, the Perseverance rover, to the surface of the red planet last year.
The helicopter surveyed the remains of the parachute that slowed the spacecraft’s descent onto Mars in February 2021, as well as the shattered backshell that protected the precious $2.4 billion robotic mission as it hurtled through the Martian skies at 12,500 miles per hour.
After a series of complicated maneuvers nicknamed the “seven minutes of terror” by NASA mission scientists, Perseverance touched down safely in Jezero Crater, an ancient dried-up lakebed. During the approach, which was partially captured on film, the rover jettisoned its parachute and backshell. The hard shell crashed into Mars at a speed of 78 miles per hour about a mile from Perseverance’s landing site, an impact that the rover was actually able to capture in real time as part of its exciting descent footage.
Ingenuity has now obtained a close look at the spent spacecraft parts during its 26th flight on the red planet, which occurred on April 19, exactly a year after this pioneering aircraft made history with the first powered flight on another world. The images provide an eerie snapshot of Martian artifacts, but they are also packed with useful information that mission scientists can use to fine-tune future landings, including a planned mission called Mars Sample Return that will bring the first pristine Martian rocks back to Earth.
“Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,” said Ian Clark of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), who is Perseverance’s former systems engineer and now serves as the Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead.
“But Ingenuity’s images offer a different vantage point,” he continued. “If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars Sample Return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring.”
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