NASA’s groundbreaking Mars helicopter Ingenuity has gone silent during its latest flight over the Red Planet. This pint-sized chopper was attempting its 72nd Martian flight on Thursday when it suddenly stopped communicating with NASA controllers.
Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars with the Perseverance rover back in 2021. Its original mission was only supposed to be 5 short test flights to see if aerial exploration was even possible on Mars. But the little 4-pound helicopter performed so well that NASA extended its mission indefinitely.
Over the past two years, Ingenuity has flown over 70 times, scouting terrain ahead for Perseverance and demonstrating the value of having a helicopter buddy on Mars. It recently broke records for the farthest and longest flights ever taken on another world.
But this latest flight didn’t go as planned. Ingenuity successfully climbed to its target altitude of 40 feet as usual. But then it dropped off the radar on its way back down. NASA isn’t sure what caused the communication failure.
Now the Ingenuity team is scrambling to regain contact with the grounded chopper. Maybe they can use Perseverance to get close and visually inspect it. But its fate remains uncertain for now.
This actually isn’t the first time this has happened. Back in April 2022, Ingenuity also stopped calling home mid-flight due to rough terrain interfering with signals. Luckily that time it turned out fine.
Whether it flies again or not, Ingenuity has already made history as the first powered aircraft on Mars. It has flown over 11 miles and spent over 2 hours in the air – remarkable feats of interplanetary aviation. But after over a year of going above and beyond, Ingenuity may have finally met its match on the rugged Martian surface. Fingers crossed for a miraculous recovery!