When NASA sent a tiny helicopter with Perseverance to Mars, it didn't know if the technology demonstration would work – nothing has ever flown on Mars before. After three successful flights, the history-making Ingenuity performed so well that the space agency decided to end the technology demonstration early and make it a full-fledged operational partner of Perseverance. Just after this announcement last week, the Mars helicopter took flight again, its longest, fastest, and furthest yet.
For each flight, we have been lucky to get the point of view of Perseverance, taking pictures and filming Ingenuity as it hovers across the Martian surface. Now, there's an added dimension to the experience as NASA has revealed Perseverance actually caught the sound of the helicopter's blades whirring too (enhanced for clarity), something the team was not expecting to be able to capture at all.
“This is a very good surprise,” David Mimoun, science lead for the SuperCam Mars microphone, said in a statement. “We had carried out tests and simulations that told us the microphone would barely pick up the sounds of the helicopter, as the Mars atmosphere damps the sound propagation strongly. We have been lucky to register the helicopter at such a distance. This recording will be a gold mine for our understanding of the Martian atmosphere.”
The fourth flight had Ingenuity going on a 266-meter (873-foot) round trip, taking more observations than ever before. This is crucial for the fifth flight, expected to happen today, May 7, which will take Ingenuity on its first one-way trip to find a new airfield. The little robot will follow the path of flight four for 129 meters (432 feet), then will double the height it has reached so far (rising up to 10 meters/33 feet) where it will take some color photographs of the area, and finally will land in a new location all by itself.
This is truly a brand new way to study the Solar System and we are seeing it as it happens.