Ingenuity has just completed its 12th flight on Mars, marking yet another huge milestone for NASA‘s first-of-a-kind helicopter. Ingenuity landed on Mars this past February with its Perseverance rover sibling. While Perseverance is the larger and more technically capable of the duo, Ingenuity is arguably more impressive. It’s the first controlled flight aircraft to ever travel on a planet other than Earth, making the 4-pound gadget nothing short of a technical marvel.
Following its inaugural flight on April 19, 2021, the past few months for Ingenuity have been jam-packed. In early July, NASA sent Ingenuity on a much longer and more intense flight than the helicopter was ever designed to make. Later that month, Ingenuity completed its 10th official flight and crossed a total distance of one mile flown on the Red Planet. Despite its small size and technical limitations, Ingenuity has repeatedly proven invaluable for researching Mars like never before.
The best part of all this? Past success doesn’t mean NASA’s anywhere close to being finished with the little helicopter that could. Early in the morning on August 17, the NASA JPL Twitter account confirmed that Ingenuity had finished its 12th Mars flight. This journey saw Ingenuity reaching a max height of 32.8 feet, traveling around 1,476 feet across the planet, and completing the mission in 169 seconds.
For Ingenuity’s 12th flight, NASA used the helicopter to study Mars’ South Séítah region — which is described as a “geological wonder.” The area has enormous potential for scientific discovery, but unfortunately, it’s also filled with extremely challenging terrain. To overcome this, NASA relied on the assistance of Ingenuity’s AutoNav system. NASA created the navigation system as nothing more than a tech demo, but as proven by this 12th flight, it’s also an extremely useful tool for these situations. With AutoNav helping Ingenuity through the mission, the helicopter captured 10 color images of the area.
The photos are quite stunning on their own, and they’ll also prove useful as NASA continues its exploration. Specifically, the Perseverance team can now study these images, get a better idea of the terrain that lies ahead, and use that to determine where the rover heads next. As NASA explains, “It [Ingenuity] captured images that we hope will help the Perseverance science team determine which of the boulders, rocky outcrops, and other geologic features may be worthy of further scrutiny by the rover.”
Missions like this are prime examples of why Ingenuity and Perseverance are such a good team. NASA can send Ingenuity on a flight, get an aerial view of a region, and explore areas of interest for Perseverance. If Ingenuity finds something that requires further exploring — and confirms it’s accessible via rover — Perseverance can then head out and get a closer look. There are plenty of secrets left to uncover on Mars, and NASA is taking important steps forward in learning everything that the planet has to share — and it’s all thanks to missions like this.