Mars helicopter makes 4th flight, gets extra month of flying
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s little Mars helicopter has gotten a reprieve.
Instead of wrapping up flight tests at the beginning of May, NASA is giving its Ingenuity helicopter at least an extra month to tackle tough new terrain and serve as a scout for its companion rover, Perseverance.
Officials announced the flight extension Friday, following three short flights in under two weeks for the $85 million tech demo.
Ingenuity made its fourth flight Friday afternoon, traveling 872 feet (266 meter) at a height of 16 feet (5 meters) for two minutes — considerably farther and longer than before. An attempt Thursday had failed because of a known software error.
On its fifth flight in a week or so, the chopper will move to a new airfield on Mars, allowing the rover to finally start focusing on its own rock-sampling mission. The rover is seeking signs of ancient life at Jezero Crater, home to a lush lakebed and river delta billions of years ago.
“Ingenuity loves Mars,” project manager MiMi Aung told reporters. “It takes off and I almost feel the freedom that it feels.”
Now Perseverance will take priority, scoping out the rocks around the Feb. 18 landing site. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on the rover’s belly. Managers expect the rover to collect its first sample in July for return to Earth in a decade.
The rover will continue to relay data and pictures from the helicopter, but stop taking its own chopper shots. The two spacecraft must be within a half-mile (1 kilometer) of one another, for communication relay.
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