NASA Video Charts Ingenuity’s 10-Mile Flight Path Around Mars

NASA has released a fascinating flight map that charts all the Mars avigations taken by the space agency’s recently defunct Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter became the first vehicle to achieve powered, controlled flight on another planet when it took to the Martian skies on April 19, 2021. And over the next three years, it flew another 71 times with NASA’s video showing the location of all 72 flights.

The Ingenuity Helicopter

“Ingenuity far surpassed expectations — soaring higher and faster than previously imagined,” writes the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Designed to be a technology demonstration that would make no more than five test flights in 30 days, Ingenuity eventually flew more than 14 times farther than the distance expected and logged more than two hours of total flight time. It flew for the final time on January 18, 2024.”

The video shows the 4-pound (1.8 kilograms) helicopter’s impressive 10.5-mile journey across the Red Planet which is 14 times farther than originally planned.

Ingenuity landed on Mars along with NASA’s Perseverance rover which acts as the communication relay for the autonomous chopper. Its prime mission was just five flights in 2021 but it excelled and began looking for samples and signs on life.

But on January 18, after rising to an altitude of 40 feet and then descending to about three feet above the surface, Ingenuity lost contact with Perseverance. Communications were re-established the next day, but photos of the rotor blade that came a few days later revealed damage — enough to prevent the drone from flying again.

A panoramic view of a rocky martian landscape under a hazy sky, featuring a mountain in the background and scattered rocks of various sizes dominating the terrain.
A stunning image taken by Perseverance showing what the greeted Ingenuity when both spacecraft landed in the Jezero crater in March 2021.

The Ingenuity was not made to last through the Martian winter — at least not initially. It was unable to power its heaters through the frigid nights and as a result, the flight computer periodically froze and reset. Called “power brownouts,” NASA redesigned the helicopter’s winter operations in order to keep it flying. This was obviously successful, as the drone survived multiple winters on the Red Planet.

Now, Ingenuity sits and waits at its final touchdown location. The hope is that someday humans will set foot on Mars and retrieve it so that it may return to Earth — perhaps to the Smithsonian where it can be appreciated by millions.

Image credits: NASA.