NASA has revealed that Ingenuity – the experimental helicopter sent to Mars with the Perseverance Rover – has clocked up a whole half-hour of flight in the Red Planet's meanly thin atmosphere.
The 'copter passed the thirty-minute mark during its 17th flight, on December 5, which sets a new record for the space agency.
But NASA was unsure of the craft's status because of what the US agency has described as "an unexpected cutoff to the in-flight data stream as the helicopter descended toward the surface at the conclusion of its flight."
At this point of the story we need to share this old tweet from the Apache Software Foundation.
Did you know that Ingenuity, the Mars 2020 Helicopter mission, is powered by Apache Log4j? https://t.co/gV0uyE1ylk #Apache #OpenSource #innovation #community #logging #services pic.twitter.com/aFX9JdquP1— Apache - The ASF (@TheASF) June 4, 2021
Yes, that tweet refers to that Log4j – the Java logger that was last week found to include a critical flaw that allows an attacker to execute arbitrary code on untold millions of systems with very little effort. Log4J has since been widely exploited – perhaps by China and Iran – and sparked a global patching frenzy because the first fix wasn't quite complete, requiring a second version that provided defense-in-depth.
The Log4j bug was revealed on December 9 and the flight with delayed data took place on the fifth … and the two events are totally not connected.
The issue looks like one of those "space is hard" things.
"Perseverance serves as the helicopter's communications base station with controllers on Earth," NASA explained. "A handful of data radio packets the rover received later suggested a healthy helicopter on the surface but did not provide enough information for the team to declare a flight success."
Once data was downloaded to Earth, analysis here allowed an assessment of the flight and the new tally of Ingenuity's total flight time.
- ExoMars parachutes just about good enough to land rover safely on the Red Planet
- ESA's Mars Express picks up plaintive bleeps of China's Zhurong rover, adding much-needed comms redundancy
- It's fake ooze, don't fall for fake ooze: Alien fossils found on Mars might just be simple chemistry, uni pair warn
The 'copter was due to fly again today, on a 230-metre trip. This time NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory boffins have decided to use a lower data rate that allows use of a stronger signal, in the hope of maintaining constant contact with the craft. The two vehicles need line of sight to talk, and the space agency has therefore prepared for the chance that Ingenuity's next landing spot won't be visible from the rover.
To be honest, NASA is chuffed that Ingenuity is still flying, because the original mission plan was for just five flights.
Perseverance is busy, too, executing humanity's next attack on Mars – this time with a drill.
Here on Mars, I’m checking out a new rock and getting ready for my next sample. Back on Earth, engineers are testing the systems that could bring back this literal piece of history.https://t.co/J4mhD8XZLa #SamplingMars pic.twitter.com/6c7XWnrjw2— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) December 14, 2021
And finally, it should be said that exploitation of the Log4j bug on Mars is a million to one: to attack the machine, specially crafted text has to be sent over to the hardware and logged by the vulnerable library, and we can't see that happening unless someone on the inside goes rogue. ®