NASA’s Mars Helicopter Spots Wreckage From Perseverance Landing

NASA’s Mars Helicopter Spots Wreckage From Perseverance Landing
Ingenuity caught a picture of the Perseverance backshell and parachute, which helped the rover land. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

During a flight on April 19, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter snapped a photo of the wrecked backshell and parachute that helped land the Perseverance rover back in February 2021.

The Perseverance rover mission aims to find evidence that microbial life once existed on the Red Planet. Its nail-biter landing last year involved a backshell, which helped to protect the precious equipment during its entry, descent, and landing stages. During the landing sequence, the backshell and parachute were released and slammed into the ground, where they’ve been mostly forgotten about. That is, until earlier this month, when the Ingenuity helicopter imaged them from above. The backshell, once a smooth white dome, is now a tattered and grimy mess of crumpled metal.

NASA said in a release posted on April 27 that “Engineers working on the Mars Sample Return program requested images be taken from an aerial perspective of the components” in order to glean information about their “performance during the rover’s entry, descent, and landing.”

One of the Perseverance mission team members expressed her joy over the photos in a tweet. “OH MY,” Erin Gibbons wrote. “Space debris crash-landed on another world snapped by an aerial drone. What a timeline we live in.”

Though it was intended as simply a technology demonstration and isn’t critical to the overall Perseverance mission, the Ingenuity helicopter has really stolen the spotlight with its daring flights through the thin Martian atmosphere. The helicopter is a scrappy little thing, featuring a 2 kg chassis and a 1.22 m blade span. Its first flight had a peak of 3.05 m and was the first controlled, powered flight on another planet. Since then, Ingenuity has made 27 flights across over 6 km.

Mars is getting positively crowded lately. In addition to Percy, NASA’s InSight lander and Curiosity rover, as well as China’s Zhurong rover, continue to carry out fascinating science on the dusty Martian surface. The European Space Agency and Roscosmos were supposed to launch another robotic explorer, the Rosalind Franklin rover, later this year, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Europe to suspend work with the Russian space agency indefinitely. For now, that rover is packed into storage in Italy as mission planners determine potential next steps.