After almost three years on the Red Planet and 72 flights into the thin Martian atmosphere, NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter is ending its mission due to a broken rotor blade.



Mars just got a bit quieter now that the whirring blades of NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter have fallen silent. The tiny craft was about the size of a tissue box, with four spindly legs and a set of blades that generated a booming rumble.



Well, after dozens of flights over nearly three years, NASA administrator Bill Nelson had some sad news yesterday.


BILL NELSON: Ingenuity, the little helicopter that could - and it kept saying, I think I can; I think I can - well, it has now taken its last flight on Mars.

SUMMERS: He said the reason for retirement was a damaged rotor blade.

SHAPIRO: The little copter that could landed on the red planet in February 2021 stuck to the belly of NASA's Perseverance rover. A few months later, it lifted off for its first flight. The elevation was modest - just 10 feet off the dusty surface. But by chopping its way through the thin Martian atmosphere, Ingenuity became the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet.

TEDDY TZANETOS: It was a simple, humble flight, but it meant the world to all of us because we'd done it. We had accomplished our mission. And from that point on, everything was sprinkles on top.

SUMMERS: Project manager Teddy Tzanetos says ingenuity had the computing power of a nearly decade-old cellphone, and it was only meant to take five flights.

SHAPIRO: But the copter kept on going. Ingenuity completed 72 flights, climbed as high as 79 feet and soared a total of 11 miles. In fact, it proved reliable enough that it took on a new mission - scouting the path ahead for its sibling on the red planet, the Perseverance rover.

SUMMERS: And it scouted a path for future Mars missions, too.

TZANETOS: The purpose is for future generations here to run with it and be able to scout, be able to do science, be able to carry important payloads and ultimately help the first astronauts that get to Mars.

SUMMERS: Tzanetos says, while he and his team will miss Ingenuity, their work is far from over.

TZANETOS: We have an acronym that we've been using throughout all these years and all these flights called WENDY (ph) - we're not dead yet. And Ingenuity proved to us, OK, we're going to get to the end of a mission here. But we're still not dead yet, and she's still alive and healthy. She'll never be able to fly again, but we'll get all the data we can. And she's done a remarkable job.

SHAPIRO: So farewell, Ingenuity - mission well done.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELHAE SONG, "KNOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.