Why NASA Named the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity’s final resting place After ‘Undying Lands’ in ‘Lord of the Rings’

On Jan. 18, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter made its last flight on the red planet. During its last Mars flight, the chopper suffered rotor damage that prevented it from continuing with its aerial exploration of the red planet. After its last flight, the rotorcraft landed in its final resting place. Now, NASA has bestowed a new name for its chopper’s resting place.

“The Ingenuity team has nicknamed the spot where the helicopter completed its final flight ‘Valinor Hills’ after the fictional location in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels, which include ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy,” NASA officials wrote on Monday (Feb. 6).

NASA chose this name to honor a fantasy novel writer named Tolkien. Tolkien, the renowned Anglo-Saxon scholar at the University of Oxford was born in 1892 and died in 1973. Throughout his writing career, Tolkien wrote many fascinating fantasy writings including “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR), “The Hobbit” and “The Silmarillion.”

In fact, he is best known for his works on these novels. In the early 21st century, most of Tolkien’s stories were converted into interesting tales for television, radio, streaming, and Hollywood. Some of these stories include the LOTR and “The Hobbit” movie series directed by Peter Jackson in the 2000s and 2010s, and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” Amazon Prime series from 2022.

Why NASA named Ingenuity’s Landing Site Valinor

Valinor was a sectional part of Undying Lands cited most times in Tolkien’s story. Tolkien cited most of his references to those islands at the end of LOTR. In that movie, the elves granted some of the main characters refuge on the island after the invitees worked hard in a quest to destroy a powerful finger ring threatening to destroy the Universe. 

A 2009 paper published in the peer-reviewed journal “Mythlore ” led by Keith Kelly, of Pennsylvania’s Kutztown University revealed that the islands of the Undying Lands were the home of the elves and also served as the Valar. NASA officials gave the location such an informal name for navigation.

Since the chopper landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, it conducted successful 72 flights on the red planet before suffering damage on its rotor. The small helicopter made its last flight on Jan. 18 before the damage to its blades. This severe damage made it impossible for the Mars helicopter to ever fly again.

However, even though it cannot fly again, it can still send engineering data to Perseverance as long as the powerful rover operates within the same range. As for Perseverance, NASA will continue to use the rover to obtain samples that it will return back to Earth in the 2030s. This implies that the rover will soon drive away from the resting place of the Mars helicopter, completely concluding the mission for the chopper.

The Next Plan for Mars Helicopter

NASA and JPL’s Ingenuity helicopter on the surface of Mars as seen by the Perseverance rover’s Mastcam-Z camera on Feb. 4, 2024. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Even though Ingenuity is no longer in operation on Mars, NASA is still hoping to continue flying on Mars in the future. The American Space Agency is currently working on two fetch helicopters that will carry out the MSR mission plan.

However, if NASA overcomes the current budget challenges, the agency will surely move faster in sending these future robotic flying missions to Mars. Currently, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the operation of Ingenuity and MSR on Mars. The JPL section of NASA cut about 8% of this workforce this week due to the budget challenge.

However, NASA is hoping to continue operating under a resolution that freezes spending at 2023 budgetary limits until the spending for the new fiscal year can be bargained.

“The impacts will occur across both technical and support areas of the Lab,” JPL officials said in a recent statement. “These are painful but necessary adjustments that will enable us to adhere to our budget allocation while continuing our important work for NASA and our nation.

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