"We’re confident that our baby is ready to keep soaring ahead on Mars."
Nevertheless, She Persisted
After NASA's Mars helicopter ghosted for two months and then fell down on the job, we're pleased to report that Ingenuity is back at it again and snapping photos of its bestie, the Perseverance Rover.
In a press release about the maneuver, NASA noted that Ingenuity's Earthbound operators had the chopper perform "a short hop" so its humans could better understand why its last flight had been so rudely interrupted.
On July 22, a few weeks after Ingenuity finally made contact following silence between late April and early July, NASA and CalTech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory slated the chopper to undertake a "136-second scouting flight dedicated to collecting imagery of the planet’s surface."
Ingenuity only got halfway through that brief flight before something triggered a LAND_NOW code, the helicopter's flight-contingency program. As a result, Ingenuity grounded itself in an emergency landing. Along with the data from its successful hop, Ingenuity also sent its Earthlings another communiqué: a photo of the Martian surface, with the Perseverance Rover seen just at the top of it as if waving hello in a cut-off photo taken by a clueless uncle.
Look who it is! I recently drove right past Ingenuity and got a pic after it ended its 53rd flight early. Happy to say it’s since completed a 54th flight to check out its systems. (Even caught a glimpse of me too!) Latest #MarsHelicopter status: https://t.co/CL280i0K6k pic.twitter.com/vJsHZUEk9z
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) August 8, 2023
The chopper's handlers are, as the news release notes, "confident" that they understood the issue Ingenuity faced causing it to engage in an automatic landing: a syncing problem with its navigational camera, which made it difficult for the robotic craft to know where it was, or how fast it was going.
As with most off-world robotics, even the July 22 disruption has provided affirming data for NASA and the JPL about the little helicopter that could.
"While we hoped to never trigger a LAND_NOW, this flight is a valuable case study that will benefit future aircraft operating on other worlds,” Teddy Tzanetos, JPL's team lead emeritus for Ingenuity, said in the press statement. "The team is working to better understand what occurred in [July], and with [this latest flight's] success we’re confident that our baby is ready to keep soaring ahead on Mars."
It looks like this "baby," to use Tzanetos' words, will live to fly another day — and we, like NASA and the JPL, couldn't be happier about it.
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