The most important aspect of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is obviously to search for past life on the Red Planet -- but the most fascinating aspect may take place this week.
In yet another historic flight, NASA is planning to fly a small helicopter on Mars. If successful, the 4-pound helicopter named Ingenuity would be the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet!
Over the last week, rover Perseverance has slowly, deliberately deployed Ingenuity from its underbelly to the Mars surface. Once completely deployed to the surface, Perseverance left Ingenuity alone so that the sun could charge the little helicopter’s batteries.
Back when Ingenuity was attached to Perseverance, it received power from the rover, which allowed the chopper’s heater to keep its internal components at 45 degrees during the bitter cold Martian nights. But now that Ingenuity is on its own and only getting power from its own little solar panels, that nighttime internal temperature has dropped to 5 degrees.
And as of Tuesday morning, Ingenuity has survived a cold night on Mars!
Now the real testing can begin, and its maiden flight could even be later this week.
On Monday and Tuesday, jet propulsion lab scientists have been conducting electronic testing. As long as that all checks out, the helicopter will reach a new milestone Wednesday: its rotor blades will be unlocked.
As it looks now, NASA’s first Ingenuity test flight could be this Sunday evening.
The small chopper’s first flight will be pretty simple: Ingenuity will take off a few feet above the ground, hover there for twenty to thirty seconds and then land. If this is a success, NASA will get more and more ambitious with the small aircraft in the days ahead.
NASA is comparing the maiden flight of Ingenuity to the Wright brothers’ first successful powered flight. Tucked under Ingenuity’s solar panels is a small piece of material that covered the wings of the Wright brothers’ aircraft when it took the first solo flight that fateful dat in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
NASA’s successfully landed its Mars Rover Perseverance on Feb. 18 this year near an ancient river delta in the Jezero Crater to search for signs of ancient microscopic life. Perseverance is now the ninth spacecraft to successfully land on Mars since the 1970s, and each of those spacecrafts have been from the U.S.
Over the next two years, the rover will collect rock samples containing possible signs of bygone microscopic life, which will eventually be retrieved by another rover and brought back to Earth by another rocket ship.