NASA’s Mars Helicopter sent back truly fantastic images

With everything that happens on Earth, we sometimes forget that there is a helicopter flying around Mars.

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter — the first vehicle to make powered, controlled flight on another planet — made its 64th flight (engineers had hoped it would fly five times, if ever) in late October. The experimental vehicle, which has four-foot rotor blades that rotate at 2,400 revolutions every minute, broadcast footage of its flight, during which Traveled 1,348 feet (411 metres) across the Martian desert.

With the sun shining overhead, the craft casts shadows on extraterrestrial Earth, creating the sci-fi-like images you see below.

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NASA explains that Ingenuity captured these shots using its navigation camera, which was mounted in the helicopter’s fuselage and pointed straight down to track the ground during flight.

An Ingenuity helicopter hovers just above the ground. You can see two of its actual legs at the right angles.
Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An Ingenuity helicopter flies over the surface of Mars.

An Ingenuity helicopter flies over the surface of Mars.
Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The little creation remained on the ground as the vehicle reached a higher altitude.

The little creation remained on the ground as the vehicle reached a higher altitude.
Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Piecing these images together produces a lively video of the October 27 flight:

NASA’s car-sized Perseverance rover, with exploratory assistance from Ingenuity, is on a mission largely dedicated to finding signs of past primitive life on Mars. This could mean visible pieces of genetic material, or parts of a degenerating cell.

So far, there is no evidence of life at all on Mars, or anywhere outside Earth. But these robots will continue to explore the desert, especially rivers, streams and dry lake beds, where life could have continued in the soil. Creativity and Perseverance explores Mars’ Jezero Crater, a river delta that planetary scientists believe was once teeming with water.

However, one day, scientists may also have the opportunity to look deep beneath the Martian floor, a sheltered place that could have hosted life for much longer than the dry, cold, irradiated surface. Who knows what we will find.

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