NASA's Ingenuity was only supposed to fly 5 times. It just aced flight 50

"We are not in Martian Kansas anymore."
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Ingenuity in flight.
An artist's impression of Ingenuity in flight.

NASA / JPL-Caltech 

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter has reached a massive milestone.

The off-world chopper has successfully completed its 50th flight, far exceeding its original mission parameters.

Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, flew over 1,057.09 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds during its 50th mission on April 13. The helicopter reached a new altitude record in the process, reaching a height of 59 feet (18 meters).

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter aces flight 50

The Ingenuity helicopter aced its 50th flight and then came to rest near the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) "Belva Crater", NASA pointed out in a blog post.

NASA is already looking ahead to flight 51, as it will soon perform a repositioning flight before using Ingenuity to explore the “Fall River Pass” region of Jezero Crater.  

NASA designed Ingenuity to demonstrate that controlled flight was possible on Mars and to help develop aircraft and drone technology for future space exploration missions.

Ingenuity reached Mars aboard NASA's Perseverance rover in February 2021. On April 19 of that same year, Ingenuity performed the first-ever controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.

NASA originally intended the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) helicopter to fly roughly five times. However, Ingenuity has far exceeded those mission parameters, and the space agency has used it as a fully-fledged aerial scout for Perseverance. The helicopter has been able to survey regions of the Red Planet to help plan the Perseverance rover's route. It has also explored areas the rover will never visit, such as "Fortun Ridge".

The future of off-world exploration?

The 50th flight of Ingenuity is a historic moment for NASA.

"Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments well after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to pursue and learn from the flight operations of the first aircraft on another world," said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Crucially, NASA is using data from the Ingenuity mission to develop future Mars helicopters. That includes one of NASA's proposed aircraft for the Mars Sample Return, the Sample Recovery Helicopter.

NASA's Ingenuity was only supposed to fly 5 times. It just aced flight 50
An artist's impression of a Sample Recovery Helicopter.

How much longer will Ingenuity last? NASA points out that since the helicopter left the relatively flat Jezero Crater floor 11 flights ago, it has had to contend with rough terrain that could cause problems.

"We are not in Martian Kansas anymore," explained Josh Anderson, Ingenuity operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. "We’re flying over the dried-up remnants of an ancient river filled with dunes, boulders, and rocks and surrounded by hills that could have us for lunch. And while we recently upgraded the navigation software onboard to help determine safe airfields, every flight is still a white-knuckler."

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