NASA’s Mars helicopter spots ‘otherworldly’ wreckage on Red Planet surface: ‘Phenomenal’

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In what looks like a scene from a science fiction movie, NASA’s Ingenuity captured images of the Perseverance rover’s landing equipment on Mars’ surface. The Perseverance is a large Mars Rover designed to explore the Red Planet as part of NASA’s 2020 mission to Mars. US space agency’s Ingenuity helicopter, which actually hitched a ride with the rover captured colour images of the landing equipment that was left after its arrival in February 2021.

The images show a parachute and the conical backshell that protected the car-sized Rover during its descent toward the Red Planet.

Nicknamed the “Mars Helicopter”, Ingenuity is the first demonstration of controlled flight on another world.

Originally, NASA intended the “Marscopter” to perform five flights, but one year and 26 flights later, the drone captured these images on one year anniversary of its first flight.

Speaking to New York Times, Ian Clark, an engineer who worked on Perseverance’s parachute system seemed captivated by the photographs, saying: “There’s definitely a sci-fi element to it.

“It exudes otherworldly, doesn’t it?

“They say a picture’s worth 1,000 words, but it’s also worth an infinite amount of engineering understanding.”

The outer shell, visible in the image, protected the Perseverance Rover both in space and during its fiery descent, as the vehicle had to withstand gravitational forces, high temperatures, and other extreme factors that are observed when entering Mars’ atmosphere at nearly 20,000 kilometres per hour.

Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity’s team lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California said: “NASA extended Ingenuity flight operations to perform pioneering flights such as this.

“Every time we’re airborne, Ingenuity covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve.

“Mars Sample Return’s reconnaissance request is a perfect example of the utility of aerial platforms on Mars.”

According to a NASA statement, the photographs they obtained could potentially help ensure safer landings for future spacecraft “such as the Mars Sample Return Lander, which is part of a multimission campaign that would bring Perseverance’s samples of Martian rocks, atmosphere, and sediment back to Earth for detailed analysis.”

Mr Clark, who is now Mars Sample Return ascent phase lead added: “Perseverance had the best-documented Mars landing in history, with cameras showing everything from parachute inflation to touchdown.

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“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.”

The photographs show the upright backshell of the Rover, along with the debris field that resulted from it impacting the surface at about 126 kilometres per hour.

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