Kickass White Science: The Little Helicopter that won’t quit! – NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter spots debris on its leg on latest flight

[That little Mars helicopter has been AWESOME. It just won't quit. It has exceeded all expectations beyond all the wildest dreams. So White Americans can pat themselves on their backs. This little helicopter has super duper insanely exceeded all expectations. I can't believe it is still flying months later! This will definitely go down in history. We were the first race to fly on Earth and we're the first race to fly on another planet! We're awesome!! Jan]

Something strange is afoot on a Martian helicopter.

The Ingenuity helicopter on Mars, which is exploring Jezero Crater along with its rover partner Perseverance, had something stuck to its foot on a recent flight. Engineers caught the debris (opens in new tab) on camera during Ingenuity’s 33rd flight above the Red Planet in late September, and noted that imagery showed the debris flew off the little helicopter. (While it looks like a bit of a cobweb or a Twinkie wrapper, we can at least rest assured it’s not aliens.)

Footage from the mission’s NavCam shows the debris falling naturally back to the surface partway through the flight, before Ingenuity made a safe touchdown back on the sands of Mars.

shadow of helicopter on mars surface. debris shadow is visible in animation
Ingenuity’s 33rd flight on Mars in September 2022 featured a piece of debris flying off the drone. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

"All telemetry from the flight and a post-flight search and transfer are nominal and show no indication of vehicle damage. The Ingenuity and Perseverance Mars 2020 teams are working to discern the source of the debris," officials from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote in a statement (opens in new tab).

Ingenuity is flying well into an extended mission. The drone is the first ever to fly above Mars and was originally rated for five flights. Now it’s about to break that mark by sevenfold.

animation of mars flight showing a piece of debris on the ingenuity helicopter
The Ingenuity drone on Mars had a piece of debris on its leg during its 33rd flight in September 2022. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA is seeking to test Ingenuity as much as possible, especially as the agency plans to put Mars helicopters into play for a future sample return mission.

Perseverance is on a long-term quest to pick up the most promising samples for closer examination on Earth, as scientists seek more answers as to whether life on Mars was possible in the ancient past.

In the meantime, Ingenuity is acting as a test scout for Perseverance as the rover continues to explore an ancient river delta. Water on Mars is one of the key areas of study as scientists continue to discuss the planet’s habitability.


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