NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, the first probe to ever fly on another planet, has captured images of the landing gear that helped it and its companion, the Perseverance rover, land on Mars in February 2021. NASA has shared the images, saying the copter snapped at the wreckage during its 26th flight on the Red Planet. The images showed the dusty parachute that helped Perseverance descend on the Martian surface and the cone-shaped backshell that protected the $2.4 billion robotic mission as it moved with incredible speed in deep space as well as in the Martian atmosphere.
Entry, descent, and landing on Mars is fast-paced and stressful as the vehicle has to endure gravitational forces, high temperatures and other operational challenges that come with entering Mars atmosphere at 20,000 kph. NASA said the images were captured on April 19, the first anniversary of the helicopter’s first flight.
“We spy with our little eyes…rover landing gear! During the Mars helicopter’s 26th flight, it took photos of the entry, descent, & landing gear Perseverance needed to safely land on Mars. You can see the protective backshell & massive dusty parachute,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates the mission, said in a tweet.
The Perseverance rover touched down safely in Jezero Crater, a dried-up lakebed, where scientists hope to find signs of ancient microbial life. Currently, the rover is collecting soil samples from Mars to send them back to Earth on a future human mission. These images offer a great opportunity for scientists to plan the landing of the future mission.
“NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this. Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, in a statement.
The rover had previously imaged the parachute and backshell from a distance but those images lacked aerial perspective, which these photographs provide.