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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – NASA’s small helicopter on Mars has been suspended.
Instead of completing flight tests in early May, NASA is giving its Ingenuity helicopter at least an extra month to tackle new challenging terrain and serve as a scout for its rover companion, Perseverance.
Officials announced the flight extension on Friday, after three successful short flights in less than two weeks for the $ 85 million tech demo. Ingenuity was attempting its fourth flight on Friday afternoon; Thursday’s effort failed due to a known software error.
On its fifth flight in about a week, the helicopter will move to a new airfield on Mars, allowing the rover to finally focus on its own rock sampling mission. The rover looks for signs of ancient life at Jezero Crater, home to a lush lake bed and river delta billions of years ago.
The helicopter team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Plan to complete a sixth and seven flight in May. The previous limit was five. If all goes well, the helicopter mission could last even longer.
“Ingenuity loves Mars,” project manager MiMi Aung told reporters. “It takes off and I almost feel the freedom it feels.”
Now perseverance will take priority, exploring the rocks around the February 18 landing site. Ingenuity hitchhiked on Mars on the belly of the rover. Managers expect the rover to collect its first sample in July for its return to Earth in a decade.
The rover will continue to relay data and images from the helicopter, but will stop taking its own helicopter shots. The two spacecraft must be within half a mile (1 kilometer) of each other, for the communication relay.
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