The small helicopter has found a temporary travel companion and NASA will have to take the necessary consequences.
Since the small Mars helicopter Ingenuity emerged from its hibernation at the beginning of September, it has once again been supporting the Perseverance rover in its search for traces of past life. And according to NASA, an unusual event occurred on the occasion of his last flight; Like the rover last June, the drone found one too unexpected travel companion.
As with each of his escapades, Ingenuity captured images of his 33rd flight using the NavCam. This is a small camera located under the frame of the machine. Usually these recordings are not very interesting; most importantly, they enable engineers to ensure that each step has taken place as planned. To a lesser extent, they also provide some images of the surface underneath the vehicle.
But this time, a little surprise awaited the drone operators. Looking at the pictures, they realized that an unexpected object had invited itself into the frame. In fact, on the video shared by NASA, we observe that a strange object appears to be hanging from one of the feet. There is actually a subtle speck of white in the upper right corner of the frame.
An unidentified Mars object
It is difficult to determine its exact nature. The way it wobbles suggests it’s probably a textile or material with similar properties; during flight it actually behaves like a small flag. But it also looks slightly transparent; a texture that would almost give it the appearance of a plastic bag or even a spider web.
Obviously, these hypotheses seem improbable to say the least. The most satisfying clue suggests that this unknown object is certainly debris from the ruins of another Mars mission, like the one that Ingenuity itself visited in April (see our article).
And for now, the space agency is just as baffled as the public. “Teams from Ingenuity and Perseverance are currently working to identify the origin of the debris,” NASA said in a brief statement. However, it states that “all telemetry data collected during flight and after landing is normal and shows no signs of damage to the vehicle”.
The problem of space debris does not stop at Earth orbit
That is a precision that is anything but anecdotal in this specific case. Images Show Mystery Object Unhooked During Flight; and since it appeared to be a very low rigidity material, it could have been cause considerable damage if it got stuck in a rotor at the time.
It is therefore not just out of curiosity that NASA hopes to discover the nature of this object; it is also about the sustainability of Mars exploration. Keep in mind that only a handful of machines currently share these vast barren plains. and when the latter already manage to accidentally pick up waste, there is cause for concern for the rest of the establishments. Keep in mind that some players like Elon Musk are already planning colonization in good and due form. However, these missions will inevitably produce a lot more waste than the voyage of those few machines.
In the end there is nothing to dramatize. Ingenuity still works like a charm and continues to serve proudly well beyond what the agency originally anticipated. But the moral of the story is that NASA has to do it Pay special attention to waste management. And it’s not just about Earth orbit. This is also a point to be considered on the planets where humanity wants to settle.