The photo-op at the Octavia E. Butler Landing Site on Mars occurred during the helicopter’s third flight Sunday, with NASA releasing the image on Tuesday. That flight saw Ingenuity lift up 16 feet in the air from a position about 279 feet away from the rover. Before Ingenuity was set free to buzz around Mars, Perserverence stowed away the four-pound helicopter during the six-month journey to the Red Planet.
Here’s the photo. Squint and look in the upper left corner.
Still can’t see it? Okay. Using hyper-advanced technology (thank you, laptop touchpad) let’s try to enhance.
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Bet you said that like a CSI character, right? Knew it. But if you’re still having trouble ...
Ok, ok, we get it. Here’s the final zoom-in. This time we mean it.
It’s grainy, but that’s Perseverance. If it wasn’t, it would be very concerning that a random unknown robot was just roaming its way into Jezero Crater.
The official NASA Perseverance account wrote on Twitter:
“Oh hey, there I am! Never thought I’d be the subject of another photographer on Mars. Great capture by the #MarsHelicopter team.”
The robot did not write that, of course. It would be quite disturbing if it did.
What’s next for Ingenuity?
Here’s a thought: if you think of the robot as an entity, and that the helicopter descended from the belly of Perseverance, and, in the headline-words of Inverse reporter Passant Rabie, unpacked “its tiny legs like a baby calf being born,” then it’s a little bit fun, too, to think of the fact that after its next two flights, it will be left behind to die in the Martian soil, cold and alone, its mother abandoning it to serve out its greater purpose of finding life on Mars.
Yes, the Ingenuity fun will soon be over: The helicopter was sent up to prove that we can execute powered flight on other planets, and it succeeded in that mission. Ultimately, it was designed to achieve that goal and then complete a series of test flights over a 30-Martian-day experimental window (that’s 31 days in Earth time).
On Sunday, after Ingenuity few for the third time, NASA announced “the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter team is looking ahead to planning its fourth flight in a few days’ time.” It’s uncertain for now whether or not NASA is planning on squeezing in a fifth flight within Ingenuity’s testing window.
And when that window is over, it’s inevitable that Ingenuity will join the other dead robots on Mars.
What’s next for Perseverance?
It’s a big important task, but one the rover is well suited for: Find evidence of ancient alien life.
It builds upon the platform set up by the Curiosity rover and adds a robust new set of tools and the ability to sample and stow Martian soil. And, after the final flights of Ingenuity, the rover should be ready to drive into the heart of Jezero Crater — a former crater lake on the Red Planet that, when Mars was warm enough and had a thick enough atmosphere for liquid water, life may have thrived.