Look: NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter spots beautiful spacecraft wreck on Mars

It’s a little dusty.

Ingenuity is the first helicopter to fly on another planet, revealing the Martian surface from the air — and some of the human-made objects on it — in unprecedented detail. Now NASA’s Mars drone has captured something new: A spacewreck.

In the image, the dusty ruins of a parachute and the burnt metal of a spacecraft are shown embedded in the ruddy Martian soil, with scattered pieces of shell and machinery littering the space around it. The ruins are not evidence of a failed landing, however — instead, they are intimately to do with Ingenuity’s existence on Mars itself.

What’s new — Ingenuity took the pictures on April 19 — the one-year anniversary of Ingenuity’s first takeoff into the Martian sky. The series of ten aerial color images show the remains of the touchdown gear that floated Perseverance and Ingenuity down to Mars on February 18, 2021.

On this auspicious anniversary, Ingenuity took a journey to its genesis and visited these iconic relics from NASA’s most highly-documented Mars landing shortly before Martian noon. For this jaunt — the helicopter’s 26th flight — the JPL team tasked Ingenuity with collecting multiple-angle views of the landing site.

The footage will help engineers learn what went right during Perseverance’s landing — and give them vital information to repeat the stunt in future missions.

Let’s take a look at what three of the images show:

3. In one image, Perseverance’s landing gear is seen popping white against the Mars soil, but it is slowly being subsumed by dust. In the background, the rover’s parachute can be seen in a crumpled heap.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took this picture of Perseverance’s landing gear 26 feet (8 meters) above the planet’s surface.NASA/JPL-Caltech

2. The panorama view is other-worldly, reminiscent of former industrial boom towns like the shores of the Aral Sea in the Middle East, or a factory city turned ghost town in the United States Midwest.

NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover landed on the planet on Feb. 18, 2021. Its descent parachute is seen on the far right of this image, and its backshell is seen left of center. They hit the ground at about 78 miles (126 kilometers) per hour.NASA/JPL-Caltech

1. In this image, the full scale of the wreckage shows how great the impact was that the Mars rover made on the planet’s surface.

The force of impact seems apparent here.NASA/JPL/CalTech

How Ingenuity landed on Mars

Packed away safely within Perseverance’s belly, Ingenuity survived the landing on Mars and a year on the planet’s surface.

But before it flew under its own steam, the helicopter’s first trip through Mars’ sky technically began as a 12,500 miles (20,000 kilometers) per hour downward plunge.

The dramatic descent of NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover to the planet’s surface on Feb. 18, 2021.

The parachute system, now lay strewn and broken along the Martian landscape, deployed when the mission was about 6 miles (9.5 kilometers) above the planet’s surface and snagged the thin Martian air for less than two minutes.

A NASA TV image of the parachute that assisted the space agency’s Perseverance Mars Rover during its descent to the planet’s surface. NASA TV

By the time the parachute and the backshell detached from the rover, they had cut through that rapid velocity down to about 246 feet (75 meters) per second before the “sky crane” descent stage completed the mission’s landing. All that hard work is evident in the landing gear’s current broken appearance. They hit the ground at about 78 miles (126 kilometers) per hour.

What’s next — Perseverance recently sped along Jezero Crater to a region called Three Forks. Ingenuity will use its sky surveys to help teams decide which path Perseverance should take uphill along a delta. When Perseverance reaches its targeted spot, it will be looking at the upstream region of two ancient converging bodies of water. This astrobiology mission will hunt for rocks that may have traveled from Martian neighborhoods that the rover itself won’t reach, augmenting its sampling.

Perseverance will seek out rocks that have signs of microbial life, which may have flourished billions of years ago on Mars thanks to its ancient lakes and rivers.