Elegy for Ingenuity, a tiny helicopter

When the Perseverance rover touched down on Mars on February 18, 2021, it was carrying a tiny passenger. Attached to its underside was a helicopter that would attempt something new for a NASA Mars mission: flight. Producing lift isn't an easy task in the thin atmosphere of Mars, but if they could prove it was possible it would open up new possibilities for exploring areas that are hard to reach by traditional rovers. 

On April 19, 2021, I got up early to watch the live broadcast of the initial flight attempt and held my breath along with everyone at JPL/NASA as the rotors spun up. With a four-foot wingspan and weighing about four pounds on Earth and 1.5 pounds on Mars, it was anything but certain that it would fly at all, but the hope was that she would make five flights. Not only did Ingenuity make that first flight, but she kept flying and made a total of 72 flights, the last ending with a hard landing that broke one of the rotors.

I can anthropomorphize anything and a cute, plucky helicopter is no exception, so I was profoundly sad to hear about the abrupt end to Ingenuity's mission. I consoled myself with the joy that I felt with every successful flight. Especially during the pandemic, it was a testament to the great things humans can accomplish. Ingenuity's final resting place has been nicknamed "Valinor Hills" as a wonderfully nerdy nod to the Undying Lands of the Elves in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings.

On the NASA Mars Ingenuity site, you can create of a photo of yourself on the Mars surface with Ingenuity or the Perseverance rover. Here is my cat, Meeps, being unimpressed by all of it. 

The LEGO Technic Rover also includes a brick-built version of Ingenuity, if, like me, you would like to have one in your home.