Ingenuity, 1.6 feet tall and weighing four pounds, is an $85 million add-on project to the $2.7 billion Perseverance mission, which is searching for signs of past life on Mars. The helicopter traveled to Mars tucked under the belly of the rover, which landed on Mars in February.
In NASA’s original plans, after the helicopter was dropped onto the ground in early April, the Ingenuity team had a month and up to five flights to demonstrate that controlled, powered flying was possible on Mars, where the atmosphere at the surface is just 1 percent as dense as Earth’s. Ingenuity was to have been left behind, and Perseverance would have headed off to conduct its scientific explorations.
But the mission’s managers at NASA changed their minds.
Ingenuity flew almost flawlessly. The first flight was a short up-and-down. Subsequent flights ventured farther afield, meeting all of the original goals.
In a blog post, Joshua Ravich, Ingenuity’s mechanical engineering lead, said the power system, the heaters, the navigation system and the rotors were all working well. “Our helicopter is even more robust than we had hoped,” he wrote.