After weeks of Earthlings fawning over Venus and the Perseverance rover stepping out of its shell to begin its scientific mission, one can imagine the Mars helicopter Ingenuity felt a little miffed that the spotlight has moved on. But on Tuesday morning, NASA announced that the helicopter had completed its eighth flight, putting the helicopter back in the mix of space exploration conversation.
Ingenuity flew for 77.4 seconds, travelling about 160.02 m to a new landing spot some 133.50 m from the Perseverance rover, NASA announced in a tweet. (These days sols, like a dog on a leash, Ingenuity must keep up with Perseverance as the rover embarks on its primary mission, looking for signs of ancient life in Jezero Crater.) These numbers are comparable to previous flights: Flight eight was slightly longer in distance and duration than flight seven, but shy of the numbers achieved in flight six. That’s because those record-setting flights were part of Ingenuity’s initial scouting regime, when the helicopter wasn’t playing second fiddle to the rover.
The first four Martian flights stuck to Wright Brothers Field, where the helicopter was originally offloaded by Perseverance and got its wings. With time to spare before Perseverance was scheduled to start its scientific objectives, Ingenuity entered its Martian scout phase, an upgrade from its initial role as a mere technology demonstration.
The helicopter’s recent flights have been staggered about two weeks apart, a departure from its previously frenzied schedule, where it managed four flights in 11 days.
Ingenuity will continue to flit around the vicinity of Perseverance while the rover does its thing. Here’s hoping NASA continues to push the copter’s limits, even it if results in a project-ending crunch.