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What just happened? It's the end of the line for the Ingenuity helicopter as NASA has concluded the historic mission after nearly three years of operation. In total, the copter performed 72 flights over a nearly three-year period - far more than the five NASA originally hoped to complete.
The Mars Ingenuity helicopter was designed as a technology demonstration, partially to determine if flight was even possible on Mars. The lightweight chopper reached Mars on February 18, 2021, along with the Perseverance rover, and conducted its first flight on April 19. NASA hoped the copter would be able to perform at least five flights over a 30-day period but it far exceeded expectations.
NASA extended the mission, and used Ingenuity to serve as an aerial scout for the ground-based Perseverance rover.
Earlier this month during a routine flight, Ingenuity lost contact with the Perseverance rover, which serves as a communications relay for the helicopter. Communications were reestablished the following day and shortly after, NASA learned that the craft's carbon fiber rotor blade had been damaged to the point that the craft is no longer able to fly. The space agency is still evaluating the cause of the communications dropout, we are told.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Ingenuity flew higher and farther than they ever imagined possible, adding that missions like this help pave the way for future flight in our solar system.
The Mars Perseverance rover mission, meanwhile, remains ongoing. The car-sized rover, which weighs more than 2,200 pounds, has traveled over 15 miles since touching down on the Red Planet. Its primary objective is to study the Jezero crater, but it is also helping to collect soil and atmosphere samples for an eventual sample-return mission.
NASA delivered more bad news earlier this month, announcing a new round of delays that would further push back the Artemis missions. Artemis 2 is now scheduled to take place in late 2025, and the Artemis 3 landing mission won't happen until September 2026 at the earliest.