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NASA Mars Helicopter Snaps Awesome Views on Aerial Scouting Mission

Ingenuity is scoping out the Martian landscape for its rover buddy Perseverance.

Aerial view of Mars from Ingenuity helicopter shows a low, rocky ridge and an expanse of sand.
This processed image shows one of Ingenuity's aerial views from its 41st flight.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Image processing by Amanda Kooser/CNET

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

Back in 2021, NASA triumphed with the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. NASA began to dream about what the flying machine could accomplish, including the ability to scout ahead for its companion Perseverance rover. With its 41st flight, Ingenuity is showing how good it can be as an aerial scout.

Ingenuity's flight 41 took place on Jan. 27 and it's giving NASA a look ahead at areas of interest. The Perseverance rover just completed its sample depot cache of tubes for the Mars Sample Return mission. It's now heading up an ancient river delta as it seeks to learn about the history of water and the potential for ancient microbial life in Jezero Crater. 

The flight lasted for 109 seconds and covered 600 feet (183 meters) as an out-and-back jaunt. On Monday, NASA JPL shared a GIF of the landing part of the flight. 

The black-and-white navigation camera images are nifty, but the stars of the show for flight 41 are the helicopter's color camera views of the Martian landscape. The raw images, available from NASA, show rippling dunes and rocky ridges.

Look toward the upper left corner to spot one of the Ingenuity helicopter's feet in this processed aerial image of Mars.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Image processing by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Ingenuity's unique vantage point gives the rover team a better idea of what might lie ahead on a certain path. It could help them avoid rough terrain or pick areas to explore. There's also a lot of beauty in what Ingenuity is seeing. It's a different look than we get from the rover's own cameras positioned closer to ground level.

Ingenuity caught sight of some sinuous dunes during its 41st flight.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Image processing by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Ingenuity is making a strong case for the usefulness of helicopters on other worlds. NASA and the European Space Agency are already planning to send two helicopters along on the future Mars Sample Return mission that aims to bring Martian rocks back to Earth.

The plucky rotorcraft started off as a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. Over 40 flights later, it's all about the rewards at this point.