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NASA sets Ingenuity helicopter's inaugural flight on Mars for Monday

A few software setbacks later, and the space agency says its first flight will happen no earlier than the middle of the night on Earth.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A little helicopter on Mars this week could make a giant leap toward our understanding of the red planet.

NASA this weekend announced it is targeting no earlier than Monday, April 19, for the first flight of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter. The flight is scheduled to begin at around 3:30 a.m.

The four-pound rotorcraft that stowed away on the Mars Perseverance Rover when it touched down on the red planet was originally scheduled to take off on April 11. But recent computer software issues pushed back the inaugural flight.

Data from the flight will return to Earth a few hours later, thanks to the many millions of miles separating Earth from Mars, NASA said in a news release.

When Ingenuity is ready to take flight, its goal is to head 10 feet into the air above the Martian surface of Mar's Jezero Crater and hover for up to 30 seconds.  

“While Ingenuity carries no science instruments, the little helicopter is already making its presence felt across the world, as future leaders follow its progress toward an unprecedented first flight,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters.  

The upcoming flight attempt is "high-risk, high reward" for NASA as it has a limited mission duration of 31 Earth days.

Not to mention, a successful test flight could benefit future exploration of Mars by astronauts, according to the space agency. Plus, Ingenuity is the first aircraft humanity has sent to another planet to attempt such a feat.

Ingenuity's upcoming flight will be autonomous since the 173-million mile gap between the two planets comes with the hurdle of radio signals taking a little more than 15 minutes to reach the rotorcraft. 

"It’s also because just about everything about the Red Planet is demanding," NASA JPL wrote. 

Prior to flight, Ingenuity will undergo a range of preflight checks from blade-wiggles to measuring the orientation of the helicopter. Then, if everything checks out, Ingenuity will configure its blades and spring to life on Mars. 

Imagery is expected to be captured during the history-making moment and sent back to mission control in Southern California. 

“The Wright brothers only had a handful of eyewitnesses to their first flight, but the historic moment was thankfully captured in a great photograph,” said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. “Now 117 years later, we are able to provide a wonderful opportunity to share the results of the first attempt at powered, controlled flight on another world via our robotic photographers on Mars.”

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