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NASA finds Ingenuity after losing contact with the Mars helicopter

An illustration from NASA shows the Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the red planet's surface near the Perseverance rover, left.
NASA
/
JPL-Caltech via AP
An illustration from NASA shows the Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the red planet's surface near the Perseverance rover, left.

Updated January 20, 2024 at 9:40 PM ET

NASA is back in contact with its beloved helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity, two days after a communication blackout.

Communications broke down on Thursday, when the little autonomous rotorcraft was sent on a "quick pop-up vertical flight," to test its systems after an unplanned early landing during its previous flight, the agency said in a status update on Friday night.

The Perseverance rover, which relays data between the helicopter and Earth during the flights, showed that Ingenuity climbed to its assigned maximum altitude of 40 feet, NASA said.

During its planned descent, the helicopter and rover stopped communicating with each other.

But good news came late on Saturday, when NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted that it had reestablished contact with the helicopter after instructing the rover "to perform long-duration listening sessions for Ingenuity's signal."

The Ingenuity team is reviewing the new data to understand the unexpected communications dropout that occurred during the helicopter's 72nd flight, it added.

Ingenuity has already exceeded its original mission, having proven that powered, controlled flight is possible in the thin and frigid Martian atmosphere, in what NASA describes as an otherworldly "Wright brothers moment."

It's since graduated to a new phase, setting the stagefor future drone exploration on Mars and other worlds.

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Emma Bowman