NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is an amazing achievement of engineering, design and, well, ingenuity. In this remarkable video captured by the Mastcam-Z, an imager aboard the Perseverance Mars Rover, the twin-rotor aircraft can be seen taking off and landing. Mastcam-Z is an excellent scientific tool, but the really standout mission statement of this article was taken with Perseverance’s SuperCam tool.
The image published by Kevin Gill, self-proclaimed software engineer, planetary and climate data wrangler, scientific data visualization artist, gives a visceral impression of the journey of the robotic airplane on the red planet.
Artist’s impression of the SuperCam laser in action on Mars. Credit NASA
The image was created using SuperCam’s Color Remote Micro-Imager (RMI), one of a series of tools that help integrate the Super into SuperCam. SuperCam also uses laser induced breakthrough spectroscopy (LIBS). In this elementary composition process, a powerful infrared laser is used to vaporize rock samples and analyze their chemical composition. It’s almost surreal to see a minivan-sized nuclear-powered science rover driving around the planet Mars and blasting rocks with a powerful laser. It then uses the same instruments to take high-resolution photos of the experimental helicopter it brought with it on its interplanetary excursion.
Endurance selfie with the Ingenuity helicopter in the background. This region of Mars is now known as Wright Brothers Field and a small piece of cloth from the original Wright Flyer is stowed aboard the helicopter. Note that the rover’s wheels are about half a meter in diameter. Credit NASA
In addition to RMI and LIBS, Supercam also performs various types of spectroscopic analyzes. These include 532 nm Raman spectroscopy, time-resolved fluorescence (TFR) spectroscopy, and visible and infrared (VISIR) reflection spectroscopy. All of this means that SuperCam can do a lot more than an ordinary camera, and we can gain insight into the mineralogy, chemistry, and atomic composition of a much wider strip of Mars. It has clearly earned the “super” in the name.
SuperCam prior to installation on the Perseverance rover. CNES credit
It’s easy to forget how remarkable ingenuity and perseverance are. You’re on another planet, after all! The photos and videos that come back from these missions leave me feeling awe and amazement. Sometimes it feels unreal. Ingenuity’s grainy, high-resolution SuperCam image highlights the reality of exploring another planet.
A color image taken in flight on April 25, 2021 with the Ingenuity helicopter. The Perseverance rover can be seen in this otherworldly aerial photo. Credit NASA / JPL-Caltech
Exploration of Mars has come a long way since the brave Sojourner rover from the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission. The incredible skills of persistence and ingenuity seem almost like science fiction, and it is remarkable to see them keep exploring the planet, sending back stunning data, videos and images for us curious Earthlings.
Mission: A look at the Ingenuity from the Perseverance SuperCam instrument. Credit NASA / JPL-Caltech / LANL / CNES / IRAP / Kevin M. Gill
Follow Ralph Crewe on Twitter @RalphCrewe.
See Ralph Crewe research unusual and interesting topics on YouTube.
Kevin Gill Flickr