NASA gears up for historic Mars helicopter flight

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — When the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, landed on the red planet it had some company on its 293 million mile journey. Ingenuity is a small but powerful helicopter with the potential to change the future of space exploration.

NASA researchers spent years designing and testing Ingenuity to be able to fly in the Martian atmosphere that is 100 times thinner than Earth’s. The final form is a four-pound, solar-powered, twin-rotor helicopter. Ingenuity has already successfully unloaded from Perseverance and is sitting on the surface of Mars. The development and deployment of Ingenuity is known as a technology demonstration, seeking to test a new capability for the first time with limited scope.

This March 21, 2021 photo made available by NASA shows the released debris shield, center, for the Ingenuity helicopter, dropped on the surface of Mars from the bottom of the Perseverance rover. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS via AP)

Ingenuity is attempting to complete the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. Leading to comparisons to the Wright Brothers, who pioneered powered, controlled flight on Earth. The first flight of Ingenuity is expected to be a short one, lasting only 30 seconds and hovering 10 feet above the surface of Mars. The autonomous flight of Ingenuity could provide the opportunity to explore space in a whole new way with unique vantage points.

“We can use that helicopter or that aerial vehicle to fly over to locations that we can’t reach with a robotic rover or robotic craft… or with humans even, there might be places we can’t reach or can’t get to,” explained Lori Glaze, the NASA Planetary Science Director.

FILE – This illustration made available by NASA depicts the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars which was attached to the bottom of the Perseverance rover, background left. It will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)

The first attempt at flight was originally scheduled for this past Sunday, but testing glitches have pushed back the lift-off of Ingenuity. The helicopter is healthy but needed a flight software update. NASA hopes to set a new date next week. If the flight is successful more ambitious flights will be possible.

“I’ve been dreaming about a movie taken of one of these amazingly high mountains, that so many stories have been about,” said NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, “Actually seeing that that kind of drone flying up that cliff, you know I just I’ve been dreaming.”

Now that Perseverance has dropped off Ingenuity, the rover will continue its mission to look for signs of past biological activity. Along with exploring if it’s feasible to extract oxygen from the atmosphere of Mars. Technology that could someday help future astronauts produce their own air and rocket fuel.

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