This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.
Landing on Mars is hard. The Perseverance rover came through the experience in style last year, but the equipment that helped deliver it safely to the surface of the red planet faced a rougher fate. New aerial views from NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter show the rover’s parachute and protective backshell as debris on Mars.
Ingenuity snapped the image series with its color camera during Flight 26 on April 19. It gives a different perspective on the detritus than what we saw when the rover captured a recent photo of the site. The large parachute is coated in Martian dust and the backshell is smashed.
NASA Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter explore the wilds of Mars
Understanding what happened to the landing equipment could help future Mars missions, like the planned sample return, which will pick up rock samples collected by the rover and bring them to Earth for study.
“Perseverance had the best documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown,” said JPL’s Ian Clark, Mars sample return ascent phase lead, in a NASA JPL statement on Wednesday. “But Ingenuity’s images offer a different vantage point. If they either reinforce that our systems worked as we think they worked or provide even one dataset of engineering information we can use for Mars sample return planning, it will be amazing. And if not, the pictures are still phenomenal and inspiring.”
Ingenuity’s overhead view gives a dramatic look at the fate of the backshell, which squashed on impact.
Kevin Gill, known for processing space images, shared before and after views of the backshell so you can see just how crushing the landing on Mars was.
JPL said the parachute canopy appears to show no signs of damage from its landing experience, but that it will take more analysis to fully understand what the helicopter images are showing.
The extraordinary photos will become part of the helicopter’s already considerable legacy. It logged the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, and has remarkably kept going despite being a high-risk technology demonstration. It’s now acting as a scout and companion for Perseverance as the rover delves into the delta region of Jezero Crater, a potential hotspot for signs of ancient microbial life.