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NASA Mars Helicopter Goes for a Hop, Proves It's Still Airworthy

Ingenuity is battling dust, freezing temperatures and low power, but it perseveres.

A black and white view of the Mars ground with the Ingenuity helicopter's "foot" in the corner.
This might not look like much, but you can see one of Ingenuity's feet in the corner in this image taken on Aug. 20, 2022.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Red arrow by Amanda Kooser/CNET

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

It's been a stressful time for NASA's Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. The remarkable flying machine has outlived its expected lifespan and weathered technical snafus, while freezing temps and dusty conditions have made it hard to charge its solar-powered batteries enough to get off the ground. But it still flies.

NASA announced Monday that Ingenuity successfully pulled off its 30th flight

"After a two-month hiatus, the rotorcraft did a short hop over the weekend so the team can check its vitals and knock some dust off the solar panel," NASA JPL tweeted along with a photo showing the Martian surface with one of Ingenuity's feet peeking out of the corner.

The short-hop flight was designed to cover just 6.5 feet (2 meters) and last 33 seconds, but that small leap is a big deal for the helicopter. 

It's winter in Jezero Crater where the Perseverance rover (which doesn't rely on solar power) is exploring an ancient river delta region. Ingenuity hasn't been getting enough sunlight to fully charge its batteries, so it took a vacation from flight. Flight 29 took place on June 11, so the helicopter has survived more than two months of frigid overnight temperatures.

According to NASA, the temperatures drop as low as minus 124 Fahrenheit (minus 86 Celsius) in Jezero Crater.

The future is looking brighter for Ingenuity as conditions in the crater improve. 

"With higher battery states of charge will come longer flights, and eventually Ingenuity will be able to power its internal heaters overnight, which will stop its electronics from freezing in the Martian cold each evening," wrote Ingenuity team lead Teddy Tzanetos in a status update on Friday prior to the flight.

The Ingenuity team hopes the plucky rotorcraft will soon get back to scouting out the delta region, working alongside Perseverance to better understand this fascinating place on Mars.