Ingenuity, the little Mars helicopter that became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet, can no longer fly due to rotor blade damage, NASA announced Thursday.
Considered by the space agency as a 30-day technology demonstration of no more than five experimental test flights, the 4-pound chopper hitched a ride on NASA's Perseverance rover, landing on the Red Planet in 2021. The aircraft performed 72 flights for nearly three years at Mars and accumulated more than two hours of flight time.
Its success prompted NASA in 2022 to add two mini helicopters to a future Mars mission.
"The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to end," NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement Thursday. "That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best – make the impossible, possible."
According to NASA, imagery of its last flight beamed back this week indicated that one or more of Ingenuity's rotor blades sustained damage during landing, deeming the aircraft "no longer capable of flight."
The helicopter ascended to 40 feet on its final flight last week, hovering for a few seconds before descending. It mysteriously lost contact with the nearby rover — its communication relay — while still 3 feet off the ground. Once communication was restored, the damage was confirmed.
The reason for the loss of communication is under investigation.
"A rotocraft pushes atmosphere to generate lift. When there is that little atmosphere the roto system has to spin really fast," Ingenuity's project manager Mimi Aung explained in 2021. "In fact, it spins at over 2,500 revolutions per minute for the flight."
After an issue with its flight software delayed the historic mission in 2021, Ingenuity successfully spun up its high-speed blades and lifted about 10 feet off the ground, hovered for 30 seconds, and landed. The historic moment was captured on several cameras including a video camera on the Perseverance rover, which was standing by.
Aung said watching the incredible footage of the flight gave her goosebumps.
"It looks just like the way we tested in our space simulator test chamber here. Absolutely beautiful flight. I don't think I can ever stop watching it."