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Farewell to Our Flying Friend and Closing in on the Crater Rim

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captured this mosaic showing the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at its final airfield on Feb. 4, 2024.
Perseverance Spots Ingenuity at Its Final Airfield: NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover captured this mosaic showing the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at its final airfield on Feb. 4, 2024. The helicopter damaged its rotor blades during landing on its 72nd flight on Jan. 18, 2024. The Ingenuity team has nicknamed the spot where the helicopter completed its final flight “Valinor Hills” after the fictional location in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, which include “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

After 72 flights and 17 kilometers flown, it is finally time for us to say goodbye to the Ingenuity helicopter. It was announced last week that Ingenuity’s mission is now coming to an end after it sustained damage to a rotor blade on its final flight. Ingenuity’s long and remarkably successful journey began three years ago on the floor of Jezero Crater and it will end in Neretva Vallis, a channel that once brought water into an ancient lake. Ingenuity became the first craft to achieve controlled and powered flight on another planet, giving the science team access to landscapes inaccessible to any rover. This week Perseverance drove within ~450 meters of the helicopter, which is likely the closest we will be to our flying companion for the remainder of our mission. We took this opportunity to acquire long distance imagery of Ingenuity with our Mastcam-Z instrument.

While Ingenuity’s mission has reached its conclusion, Perseverance is approaching one of the most exciting parts of its mission so far. Perseverance is continuing to explore the margin unit, an area on the edge of Jezero Crater with strong signatures of carbonate minerals from orbit. Our team made the most of this latest stretch of terrain, taking SuperCam LIBS and VISIR observations of a pitted rock named Porkchop Geyser and capturing Mastcam-Z images of a rubbly outcrop called Muiron Island. As the rover makes its way west, we are diligently preparing for what lies ahead. In orbital imagery of the crater rim we can see huge blocks – so called 'megabreccia' – which are hypothesized to originate from the impact that created Jezero Crater or represent even older rocks ejected from the massive Isidis Basin to our east.

While it is sad to be leaving Ingenuity behind, the future is bright for Perseverance and the science team is in high spirits. Ahead of us lies the mysterious crater rim, which may offer a window into a period of Mars’ history that no rover has ever seen before.

Written by Henry Manelski, PhD Student at Purdue University and Nathan Williams, Science Systems Engineer at JPL