What’s new with Percy the Mars rover?

Early Monday, a tiny helicopter flew on Mars . It was a short hop, just up and down, for Ingenuity , which hitched a ride to space inside the Perseverance rover in February. And it was an extraordinary feat: the first-ever powered flight on another planet.

Updated April 20 at 6:00 a.m.Originally published April 20, 2021

This page will be updated as the mission progresses.

Ginny the chopper made another successful hop on Thursday. She’ll keep doing these test flights in the thin Mars air under the watchful gaze of Percy, which will relay images and data back to NASA.

The flight is one of several astonishing successes so far, in a Martian-year-long mission dedicated to a centuries-old mystery: Did ancient microbial life flourish somewhere besides Earth?

Mars

YEAR (Earth days)

687

Length of day

24h 39m

DIAMETER (miles)

4,200

TEMPERATURE (average)

-64°F

Perseverance touched down on the Red Planet on Feb. 18 in the Jezero Crater. Some 3.5 billion years ago, the depression was formed by a meteorite and became a lake fed by a river, scientists believe. Their clue? The presence of clay minerals that form only in the presence of water. In this delta, Perseverance may find signs of ancient life. It will try to collect them and use onboard instruments to analyze their chemical composition. And Percy will preserve rock and soil samples until a future mission comes to pick them up, like the Smithsonian...on Mars.

Perseverance

Size (ft.)

10x9x7

Weight (approx. lbs.)

2,260

Speed (mph)

0.1

Cameras

23

Image without caption

Mars is farther from the sun than Earth and it takes much longer to orbit, so a Mars year is equivalent to 687 Earth days. That’s the same length of time as Percy’s mission. A Mars day, called a sol, is also longer — 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35 seconds. For these missions, NASA follows Mars time and Percy’s workday on the planet (which really screws up the sleep schedule of the agency’s scientists). The day the rover landed and began its mission is Sol 0.

Earthlings have long stared up at the fiery Red Planet. Babylonians named it Nergal. Galileo first viewed it through a telescope in 1609. In recognition of this wonder, microchips etched with the names of 10.9 million humans adorn one of the rover’s crossbeams. (NASA did a callout!) As Perseverance traverses the planet, each step builds to the next. Each test builds knowledge.

In the sections below, readers can follow the historic mission, through video, photographs and audio that Percy has sent back and can see the daunting terrain through Post maps created with NASA data.

Sol

0

Rover Status

In flight

Ingenuity performed its second test flight of 51.9 seconds on Sol 61 (also known as April 22). The helicopter will continue to perform a series of flight tests throughout the 30-sol flight-test window, while Perseverance will serve as a communication relay between the helicopter, Mars orbiters and mission control back on Earth. Following the flight tests, Perseverance will then begin surface operations, moving toward the delta to search for signs of ancient microbial life.

correction

An earlier version of this report incorrectly said that Mars is Earth's closest planetary neighbor. The article has been corrected.

About this story

Mapping by Laris Karklis. 3-D animation by Aaron Steckelberg. Editing by Matthew Callahan, Ann Gerhart and Monica Ulmanu. Copy editing by Brian Cleveland.

All photos, videos, 3-D models and mapping data are from NASA. Additional image credits include Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which built and manages operations for the rover; Caltech; Malin Space Science Systems; Los Alamos National Lab; France’s National Center for Space Studies (CNES); the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS); and Arizona State University.

Nick Kirkpatrick is a visual reporter at The Washington Post where he collaborates across the newsroom on visually-driven projects. His work focuses on integrated storytelling, blending text with photos, videos, graphics, and illustrations. Nick joined The Post in 2013 as a photo editor and has since been the recipient of numerous awards.
Frank Hulley-Jones is a designer and developer for The Washington Post. He produces interactive pieces to help audiences engage with complex and important news stories.
Laris Karklis has been working at the Washington Post since 2000.