NASA’s Perseverance rover just caught another glimpse of its pioneering robotic cousin.
“The #MarsHelicopter and I are closer together than we’ve been in a while, and guess who I spotted resting on a dune between flights. Can you believe Ingenuity is gearing up for Flight #39?” the Perseverance team said via Twitter (opens in new tab) on Wednesday (Jan. 11), in a post that featured a photo of the little chopper.
Ingenuity and Perseverance landed together inside Mars‘ Jezero Crater in February 2021. The 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero hosted a big lake and a river delta long ago, and Perseverance is scouring the area for signs of ancient life on Mars.
The six-wheeled robot is also collecting and caching dozens of samples for future return to Earth. For the past few weeks, Perseverance has been caching some of its sample tubes in a “depot” in a patch of Jezero’s floor that the mission team calls Three Forks.
Perseverance has so far deposited six of a planned 10 sample tubes (opens in new tab) in the Three Forks depot, which serves as a backup in case the rover isn’t healthy enough to haul material to a future NASA lander later this decade. A rocket aboard that lander will launch the samples to Mars orbit, where they’ll be picked up by a European spacecraft and hauled back to Earth. The samples could land here as early as 2033.
The depot samples are doubles; Perseverance is keeping a set of material drilled from the same target rocks on its body. If need be, two Ingenuity-like helicopters that will launch with the future lander will fly over to Three Forks and grab the sample tubes there one by one.
Ingenuity is currently serving as a scout for Perseverance, helping the rover team pick the best routes through the rough Jezero landscape and identify promising outcrops for in-depth study.
This work is part of the chopper’s extended mission. Not long after landing, Ingenuity aced its primary five-flight campaign, showing that powered flight is possible in the thin Martian atmosphere.
Ingenuity conducted its 39th Martian flight on Wednesday, covering 459 feet (140 meters) of ground over the course of nearly 79 seconds. To date, the chopper has flown a total of 25,690 feet (7,830 m) on Mars and stayed airborne for more than 64 minutes, according to the mission’s flight log (opens in new tab).
Perseverance has captured footage of Ingenuity before. The rover snapped photos of the chopper just after it deployed onto Jezero’s floor, for example, and also recorded video of Ingenuity’s 13th flight, which took place in September 2021.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) and on Facebook (opens in new tab).