NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Copter Ends A Remarkable Run

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All things wild and wonderful must come to an end. NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter suffered a “hard landing” on January 18’s 72nd flight, damaging one or more rotor blades, rendering it no longer capable of flight. The aircraft remains upright and in radio contact with Earth-bound controllers, but its remarkable run as the first “aircraft” to fly aerodynamically above another planet is over.

NASA designed Ingenuity as a “technology demonstration” expected to fly above the Martian surface for five flights over 30 days. That was three years ago. The aircraft exceeded NASA’s expectations by flying more than 14 times farther than planned.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said, “The historic journey of Ingenuity, the first aircraft on another planet, has come to an end. That remarkable helicopter flew higher and farther than we ever imagined and helped NASA do what we do best—make the impossible, possible. Through missions like Ingenuity, NASA is paving the way for future flight in our solar system and smarter, safer human exploration to Mars and beyond.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

45 COMMENTS

  1. Maybe the designers and engineers who built Ingenuity oughta go work for some of the vaporware EV companies with outlandish and delusional claims for machines on THIS planet ? 🙂

    • I have personally seen several EV flights over the last two years at OSH… with my own eyes and ears. Fully mature? Not hardly. But delusional Vaporware? Actually very impressive. Maybe you should step away from your keyboard and join us at Airventure 2024.

      • Electric aircraft may be cool but will never be practical. Landing weights will always be the same as takeoff weight. That’s a big problem that can’t be avoided. Even if it were possible to make the batteries much lighter than they are now it’s just not a practical power source for aircraft.

        • Not so, for certain roles, they could make a lot of sense. Self-launch motorgliders. Commercial passenger planes for short-haul routes around 300-350nm where they fly and get up to cruise and then basically glide down to landing (like modern jets that go to flight-idle). Longer than that, it takes serious fuel density, but there are definitely some niches they could fulfil. The “vaporware” is phony start-up companies pumping up stock prices and attracting investors where someone walks away with a bunch of money, but no product in the end…

      • Airventure 2024 will be MY 42nd since 1977, JonMark. I spend all week there camped out. My vapor ware comment was meant to poo poo all the graphics only (no hardware in sight) or crazy designs that will never be produced. The military has proven that — with enough money, computer control and jet power — you can make a brick fly. SO WHAT! A few years back, Airbus — a large player — brought some sort of multi-rotor EV contraption to the show … where is it now ?? Those of us who inhabit this generous space Avweb provides us will never fly much less own one of these things, either. THIS article is about an EV that was sent to Mars and managed to survive for 72 flights. GREAT! What’s that gonna do for MY aviation interests, or yours! I am heavily into reality, not fantasy. BUT — in its defense — at least it DID fly. Let’s do the math and figure the cost per flying hour. It’s MY position that this things ROI is sinful.

  2. Oh, Ginny! I’m so sorry to hear you are AOG. We’ll dispatch an A&P as soon as we can, but it’s gonna take a while.

    But man, did you impress the livin’ hell out of us chopper-jockeys here on Earth. You gave us far more than you were ever expected to, overcame obstacles never planned for, and returned far more value than you cost.

    If you ever make it back home, you’ll deserve your honored resting place in the Smithsonian next to the Wright Flyer. If you don’t, eventually there will be a place for you in the Air&Space Museum’s Mars Annex.

    Farewell, faithful Ingenuity. The entire planet Earth honors your service.

  3. What did this cost taxpayers? How did it help reduce our crushing $34T national debt or stop the invasion across our borders? Eliminating our debt and closing the border are the real challenges whose solution will have true benefits for America.

      • We never know the outcome of investments on the forefront of science until the time arrives to reap the benefits. There will always be backward thinking folk whose only concerns are the economic costs and guaranteed rewards. What was the benefit of the experiments with electricity? We didn’t have wires, light bulbs, or electric appliances at the time? When radio waves were discovered, there were no radios. What could have possibly been the economic benefits of such a useless discovery? When x-rays were discovered, there were no x-ray machines and no medical applications? What good could x-rays possibly be? Computers? Just a novelty and one IBM executive thought we maybe needed 5 in the entire world at that time. Every scientific and technological breakthrough has the potential to yield nothing worthwhile… or perhaps the research will change the entire course of history. We won’t know unless we explore.

        I agree with David. Those same economic and social problems will still exist and in the very same state even if we didn’t invest in space or science exploration. Let’s do what we humans do and continue to explore.

    • Ya know, as Americans we can, and we should, have an ongoing debate about how to allocate the federal budget. But, an article on AvWeb about the Ingenuity project seems like an odd place to complain about your personal gripes about the budget.

      Personally, I thought the mission was remarkable. Unmanned exploration of Mars doesn’t seem like reckless budgeting.

    • Hi, Kent! Wow! You have an amazing ability to take just about any subject and find a way to use it to share your political opinion! I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that you’ve made it very clear how you think about politics by your constant, unwavering repetition of the same points! Well done!

      I wonder, though, if your talent wouldn’t be better used in a forum reserved for political discussion rather than a website sharing aviation news. Just a thought!

      Have a great day!

    • I rather see funds expended for research like this that may pave the way for future exploration which will be to our benefit. Better then the billions we pay people to basically not work.

    • “I told those Wright fellows thing will never fly! And even if it does, what good is it anyway?”
      But seriously, what an amazing technological achievement. In just a few decades more than a single human lifetime, we went from the first powered flight to a helicopter on a world millions of miles from our own, and sending pictures back to boot. Simply amazing. I for one am all for allocating more of our tax dollars to space exploration.

  4. I thought it was a pretty big deal for Ingenuity to demonstrate that the Martian atmosphere is dense enough for aerodynamic flight. If we don’t stop destroying the Earth, we might need Mars as a new home as Steven Hawking thought.

  5. Two thoughts run through my mind:
    1) Poor thing – sitting in a foreign World, broken wing, awaiting further instructions… but nobody is coming to help it.
    2) This is still going to be a pretty cool Martian wildlife/trail cam while the batteries last!

    • I hate to break it to ya but … some little green guy A&P’s are gonna come out of their hiding spot on Mars and fix that thing right up. They’ve already snuck over and cleaned the solar panels on the Mothership.

  6. This was a tremendous accomplishment. Having to design something extremely light and powered by solar panels and able to carry a camera as well is just amazing.

  7. What happened? Did the battery run low as it was landing? I know here on earth, with model heli’s, a low battery can cause a hard landing. Kind of sounds like a similar scenario.

    • As Jeff said 100%.

      There is never enough money for social programs, even if NASA’s budget was 100% transferred to reducing the nation debt.

      We have seen time and again in the wake of these big science NASA programs carry with it humanity inspiring change with a wavefront of innovation in material sciences, engineering theory, astrophysics, chemistry, etc.

      Moon, Mars, exploration probes, installer space telescopes… keep it coming.

    • I don’t fault Kevin–the National Debt IS a threat to the country, as is the border. These threats are real–and IMMEDIATE–AND they are the easiest to fix.

      That said, there does need to be a PLAN and BUDGET for spending–including science. Let’s demand a balanced budget–AND accountability–as it is now, we have neither!

      • “Accountability” is EXACTLY the issue, Jim. SO many times, it seems as if individual Government bureaucracies are on a mission to find nutty projects to pursue and then pour scads of money on … often times sending good money after bad. It’s as if there’s an infinitely large pot of free money (that doesn’t impact the National Debt) to dip into and get more with little regard for the bigger picture. These Agencies forget that they’re guardians of the PUBLIC’s funds … not their own. The National Debt AND other issues closer to home demand immediate attention; meanwhile, we’re flying helicopters around Mars and planning for human flight there in the future. If you were having a family debt crisis, you don’t go on expensive vacations or buying big buck sports cars using your plastic. You face REALITY, curb your spending and get your finances in order and THEN cut loose as finances allow. Your point IS valid.

        It’s time to start doing closer examinations of expenditures by NASA, et al. I have less heartburn with this mission than the total waste by NASA on the X-57 and, now, the X-59 but — still — someone up high both in the Congress and at NASA need to spend more time justifying spending money on unneeded or ‘pet’ projects. I realize that there are secondary benefits to NASA’s endeavors but if they’re complicit in bankrupting the Nation in the process, what’s the point?

        Signed
        One of the “Mental Midgets” (see below)

    • If You, Mr. Joe P and Mr. John Marshall, are truly Americans, You have the right to disagree from Mr. Kent.misegades. But in that position – which in a lot of times and in a lot of circumstances I think is also similar to mine -, You should expose the motivation (or motivations) of Yours disagreements, and not use words that, objectively, are infamous to the person in question. Mr. Kent has the right of express theirs opinions; in other hand, You, Mr. Joe P. and Mr. John Marshall, have the right to contradict them. But, in democracy, using injurious words to refute the others opinions is not the behavior of a truly American. That is, IMHO, the reason of this comm, for which I beg Your pardon.

  8. The scientists and engineers at NASA/JPL never cease to amaze me; probably some of the most brilliant people on earth. Space missions are hard…very hard. Landing on Mars has had an approximately 50% success rate. These folks not only landed an incredible vehicle on the planet using a mind-bending procedure, but managed to design a little drone helicopter to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere…not once but several times! Their “ingenuity” is amazing!

    Also, the intellectual disparity between this brilliant team and mental midgets with negative comments is also mind-bending.

  9. Truly great engineering feat to make a helicopter that could fly in such a thin atmosphere. Maybe the next Martian flying machine could have tilt rotors and wings for higher flying and longer excursions. Maybe there are even updrafts or up slope winds that could support soaring.

  10. The most amazing fact is that it did not suffer a hard landing during the previous 71 flights. Great job engineers!

  11. What NASA needed here was a Savvy Aviation contract. Breakdown assistance away from home 24/7/365. Mike Busch & company would already have contacted several A&P shops in the area.

  12. I also own and fly a helicopter–they are difficult to fly in the relatively THICK atmosphere of Earth, but at least the problems are KNOWN here on Earth. Think of the differences in trying to fly in a relatively unknown atmosphere of another planet–different GRAVITY, different AIR DENSITY, unknown TAIL ROTOR EFFECTIVENESS, unknown RATE OF DESCENT (and even if sensed, the lag between the time readings are taken–transmitted to Earth–the corrections decided upon–relayed back to Mars–“repeat-Rinse-Repeat!” (thumbs up!)

    I agree–these had to be some of the most difficult flights ever attempted!

  13. Kent-

    Your political ravings about the national debt do not belong in this forum. In fact, I believe some of your critics here might even share your concerns about that and other current political problems. But Mark Phelps and Russ Niles and others put a lot of time and effort in collecting and publishing aviation news otems for this select audience.

    We appreciate their efforts and enjoy the opportunity to contribute our own thoughts and opinions to their articles. Your continued politcally based rantings are out-of-place here and detract from the overall value of this site. Kent, what is it going to take to convince you to take your political bullshit someplace else?

    • Using that logic — and I don’t disagree — how is anybody’s life on earth better off IF they knew the reason why, or not? Maybe nobody really cares? Perhaps it’s just fodder to bicker over? OH … it just hit me. When Elon flies up there, he’ll be able to bring his eCopter — with properly sized rotors to buzz around the planet looking for lithium.

      • “how is anybody’s life on earth better off IF they knew the reason why, or not?”

        Ah, the age-old debate between pure versus applied science.

        I’m reminded of the time Benjamin Franklin observed an early hot-air balloon flight in France. One person in the crowd (possibly your ancestor?) asked, “Of what use is it?”

        Franklin replied, “of what use is a newborn baby?”

        Lacking imagination, it’s easy to dismiss the Mars helicopter as useless. Just like that balloon. Who could’ve imagined a fleet of weather balloons launched twice daily to predict the weather? What similar future applications will come from this Mars helicopter? I don’t know myself, but I look forward to finding out.

  14. Ingenuity was a tremendous success. Kudos to JPL, NASA, and America for designing, building, and operating the first aircraft to ever operate on another planet. The investment of national treasure in science and technology has been one of our nation’s greatest trademarks. It has and will continue to be one of the things that makes this Country great. Our scientific achievements help to inspire the rest of the world to see what was thought to be impossible is possible. Flying a helicopter on Mars, landing and reusing rockets, leading the electrification of transportation, showing other countries how to triple their crop production, developing new vaccines, … the list goes on and on. I’m damn proud of this Country.

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