The first flight of NASA’s Ingenuity mini helicopter on Mars could take place this week, the US space agency said on Saturday, after a delay of more than a week due to a technical problem. It is hoped that Ingenuity’s trip, the first of a motorized device on another planet, allowed NASA to collect invaluable data about living conditions on Mars.
“NASA expects the first flight of its Ingenuity Mars helicopter to take place starting Monday, April 19th,” the agency said. The data could be received “a few hours after the autonomous flight,” which should begin around 03:30 (07:30 GMT), “according to NASA.
A real challenge
Flight is a real challenge, because Martian air has a density equivalent to only 1% that of Earth’s atmosphere. Ingenuity has to spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter would on Earth to fly.
After the flight, the helicopter will transmit technical data to the Perseverance rover, which will send it to Earth. Among these first data, there will be a black and white photo of the ground taken by Ingenuity.
The next day, once its batteries are recharged, the helicopter will transmit a color photo of the horizon, taken by its other camera. But the most spectacular images should come from Perseverance, positioned for observation several meters away, and which will film the flight.
If successful, the second flight could take place no more than four days later. Up to five flights in total are planned, of increasing difficulty. NASA intends to raise the helicopter up to 5 meters high and then try to make it move sideways.
The operation will be the equivalent on Mars to the first flight of a motorized vehicle on Earth, in 1903, by the Wright brothers. A piece of cloth from this plane that took off more than a century ago in North Carolina, in the United States, has even been placed on board the Ingenuity.
Whatever happens, after a month or less, the Ingenuity experiment will come to a halt, leaving the Perseverance rover to pursue its main task: searching for traces of ancient life on Mars.