This is it! Just a few months after Perseverance landed on the Red Planet, NASA's Ingenuity helicopter should make its maiden flight today.
A few days late. As a matter of fact, the NASA's mini-helicopter drone was supposed to fly on 11 April. However, various technical incidents such as an update to the flight software prevented teams from the US Space Agency from letting it reach full operational status. But this time, everything seems to be fine. Indeed, according to the latest information provided by NASA, Ingenuity should make its very first flight on Mars this Monday, 19 April. This will be the very first flight of a motorised vehicle on another planet, not counting Perseverance's powered landing itself.
After several days of delay, the NASA helicopter will soon take its place high in the Martian skies. In any case, this is what the US Space Agency said a few hours ago on Twitter:
NASA plans that the first flight of its Ingenuity Mars helicopter can take place as of Monday, April 19.
And while Perseverance films Ingenuity, the drone will be given the task of collecting various clues and data regarding living conditions on Mars. These elements will then be transmitted back to the rover, to then be sent over to NASA teams within hours, so stay tuned.
Facing extreme exposure on Mars
At first glance, everything seems easy. And yet it is a real challenge for the NASA teams. At the beginning, Ingenuity had to face Mars' nightly conditions which are much more than merely freezing. Temperatures can reach -90°C, enough to freeze some mechanisms of the device, and even its batteries. But the helicopter spent its first night without a hitch.
The next hurdle was flying itself: because of the atmosphere, which has a low density and isn't similar to ours, the helicopter will have to make its rotor work much faster than if it were on Earth. A very important element for Ingenuity to be able to rise in the Martian atmosphere.
If all goes smoothly, Ingenuity will have the chance to fly a total of five times.