The Perseverance Mission on Mars celebrated the completion of its second year on Mars in February, and continues to explore the ancient lake and river delta where it landed. One of its key goals is to see whether conditions in this region might have been right for the beginnings of life on Mars — or at least the biochemistry that could lead to life.
Perseverance is the first Mars rover able to collect and store samples from the rock and soil it encounters. Already it has successfully drilled and collected some 19 tubes filled with samples, which it is leaving on the martian surface for a future mission to pick up. Our photo shows one of these tubes, about 7 inches long, under the rover’s body and all-terrain wheels. To do all this with robot arms on a planet millions of miles away is a pretty remarkable achievement.
Attached to Perseverance was the tiny but super-efficient helicopter called Ingenuity, ready to perform humanity first independently-powered flight on another world. It was going to be tested for five short flights, just to see whether a helicopter — even one with much faster rotors — could fly on a world with so thin an atmosphere as Mars. After 30 days, it was going to be abandoned for more “serious” pursuits.
Well, here we are, two years later, and Ingenuity recently flew its 48th flight. And it stayed aloft for 150 seconds, about twice as long as the flights were supposed to last. All in all, it has flown for 84 minutes and has covered 36,000 feet of martian ground. Scientists soon realized that they could use the helicopter to scout the terrain that they wanted to send the rover toward, and to see how safe it was to send Perseverance in that direction.
With its rotors spinning 2400 times per minute (about 5-6 times as fast as a typical Earth helicopter), the appropriately named Ingenuity has managed to achieve ground speeds of more than 13 miles per hour and to return clear images of the ground below it. Suddenly, NASA is considering other ways helicopters might help future missions on Mars.
Having also demonstrated, in a small way, that it could turn martian carbon dioxide into oxygen for future astronauts, Perseverance is now ready to explore the river delta that is its main destination in far greater details and to see whether this martian river delta, like the ones on Earth, where water came to a standstill, might be a place where the chemistry of building toward life might have taken place.
Here is a photo from the helicopter’s second flight.