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Mars Ingenuity has taken its last flight

Also, the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample container is open!

It’s time to say goodbye to our little Mars helicopter.

Ingenuity flew its last flight on January 18, 2024. The little helicopter was only designed to fly up to five times over 30 days, but instead it managed 72 flights over three years. It hit highs of 78.7 feet, went up to 22.4 mph, traveled 10.5 miles, and logged 128.8 flying minutes. Ingenuity landed on Mars at the Jezero crater with Perseverance on February 2021, and it’s the first aircraft to fly on another world.

During its most recent (and last) flight on January 18, NASA lost communication with the helicopter. The flight itself was routine, just a quick vertical jump to about 40 feet off the ground to make sure all the helicopter’s systems were operating properly. This is because NASA lost contact with the helicopter during a previous flight. It only was supposed to last 32 seconds. It hit the designated height and hovered, but then communications were disrupted when the helicopter was about 3 feet up from the Martian surface.

On January 22, NASA was able to re-establish contact with Ingenuity. Unfortunately, the news was not good. At least one of the helicopter’s four rotor blades was apparently damaged. It can no longer fly.

Ingenuity’s damaged rotor blade, Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech

They’re still figuring out exactly what happened during the flight, but the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory think it has something to do with the terrain that Ingenuity was exploring.

The way Ingenuity historically figured out where it was and where it’s going was by using local terrain features on Mars — we’re talking boulders, large rocks, that sort of thing. But Ingenuity has recently been flying in a sandy area that doesn’t have a lot local features. It’s pretty bland and featureless.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

They think that when Ingenuity was descending, it couldn’t figure out where it was and made an emergency landing. This is probably also what happened during the previous flight. Unfortunately, the helicopter came in at an angle and one of its rotors hit the ground.

The blades might be damaged and the helicopter grounded, but Ingenuity is still operational. Because the helicopter was an experimental craft, it doesn’t have science instruments on board. But it’s still upright and communicating, so JPL engineers will keep tabs on it until Perseverance, the Mars rover that Ingenuity hitched a ride on and uses to communicate with Earth, moves out of range.

The OSIRIS-REx sample container is finally open

We’ve gotten our first look at asteroid samples from another world and the view is awesome!

Credit: NASA/Keegan Barber

Remember OSIRIS-REx? It’s the mission that brought asteroid samples back to Earth that touched down on September 24, 2023. Scientists were struggling to get the sample canister open because the fasteners were stuck and couldn’t be removed with approved tools.


Credit: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebers

This is what it looks like from the top down; you can see all the sample material around the TAGSAM head.

The good news is how much sample material there is. NASA’s goal was to bring 2.12 ounces of asteroid material back to Earth, and they’d already surpassed that before they even opened this container head.

Credit: NASA/Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebers

That’s thanks to the rocks and dust that were found on the outside of the container and collected, so everything inside just feels like a bonus at this point.

I’ll keep providing updates on OSIRIS-REx as we get them!