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NASA's Mars Helicopter Just Set An Incredible Distance Milestone

NASA's Ingenuity helicopter recently finished its 10th flight on Mars, and with it, it's officially completed one of its biggest accomplishments yet. Ingenuity is a small helicopter that landed on Mars this February with the Perseverance rover. NASA is using the robotic duo to learn more about the Martian planet and find possible signs of life. Where Perseverance is a more traditional rover that's navigating Mars on the ground, Ingenuity is a small helicopter that can get to areas not accessible by its larger sibling.

For those keeping a close eye on Ingenuity, this is actually the second piece of big news regarding the helicopter's travels. It completed its 9th flight earlier this month over particularly rough terrain. NASA said the 9th flight was more laborious of a trip than Ingenuity was ever designed to take, but the little helicopter managed to complete its mission and collect valuable samples that could offer details on an "ancient subsurface habitat."

Related: NASA's Mars Probe Looked Inside The Planet

With its 10th flight complete, NASA has confirmed that Ingenuity has flown a total distance of 1 mile on the Red Planet. While that may seem like a small number, it's a huge milestone considering the experimental nature of the helicopter. Ingenuity is the first time anyone's conducted powered, controlled flight on another planet. Rovers like Perseverance are larger and can be equipped with additional sensors/collection tools, but the flexibility of Ingenuity has proven multiple times to be extremely useful for the mission.

For this 10th flight that Ingenuity completed on July 25, the helicopter focused on an area that NASA calls the 'Raised Ridges.' It proved to be the most challenging flight yet, with Ingenuity having to visit 10 "distinct waypoints" and achieve a record height of 40 feet in the air. This past April when Ingenuity made its first flight on Mars, it reached 10 feet in a simple mission to get off the ground, hover in the air, make a small turn, and then land. Just three months later, Ingenuity is completing far more intensive tasks.

As for why Raised Ridges was the target for such a risky flight, NASA is hopeful it could be a prime site for signs of Martian life. Raised Ridges is part of a fracture system on Mars, with fracture systems often used by water and other fluid to flow beneath the surface. If NASA discovers that water did actually flow through the fracture system at Raised Ridges, there could be evidence of past life on the planet. Now that Ingenuity has completed its flight to the area, the scientists controlling Perseverance have also expressed interest in having the rover explore the area, too.

NASA has yet to reveal Flight 11 details for Ingenuity, but regardless of what the future holds, it's safe to say the helicopter has already proven to be an invaluable asset. Because of that, it's exciting to think about how similar space helicopters could be used on other missions. As NASA continues to explore Mars, the Moon, Europa, and other destinations, Ingenuity is laying the groundwork for years of future exploration to come.

Next: NASA Hunts For Life — SpaceX Secures $178 MillIon Europa Contract

Source: NASA

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