In January of 2024, NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity took its last flight. The 4lbs Ingenuity chopper first flew in February 2021 alongside the Mars rover Perseverance. When Ingenuity was first designed, it had the task of demonstrating that powered flight is possible on Mars’ thin atmosphere.

The $85 million dollar demo mission completely exceeded initial expectations. Originally designed to be a short term mission, the Ingenuity achieved 72 flights over three years on Mars, and logged over 18 km and 2 hours of flight time. This distance is around 14 times farther than the original plan. After the Ingenuity completed its original five-flight campaign, NASA granted the chopper an extended mission, where it became the scout for the Perseverance rover in its sample collection tasks.

During its final flight on January 18, the communication between the Ingenuity and its rover terminated early when it was 3 ft above the ground in its 40 ft descent. After the Ingenuity team restored communication, imagings collected from the flight revealed damages to the roller blades during the landing process. This essentially declared the end of Ingenuity’s flying career. Now that the mission is over, the NASA team in charge of it will download the final imagery and data from the aircraft’s onboard memory. Unfortunately, the Perseverance rover is too far away to take a final image for Ingenuity.

Despite the end of Ingenuity’s flying career, the significance of its legacy will last long after it’s gone. According to NASA’s website, the mission has proven that “proven powered, controlled flight is possible on other worlds, just as the Wright brothers proved it was possible on Earth.” The Ingenuity helicopter’s role as the first human-made aircraft on another planet has both symbolic and practical meaning. Its success will likely enable further exploration of Mars by scientists around the world. Attached to the Ingenuity flight is a swatch from the original Wright Flyer, symbolizing the long legacy of ground-breaking inventions in the field of aviation. Through its tenacity, Ingenuity has proven the possibilities of human imagination, making the impossible possible.