NASA aims for historic helicopter flight on Mars

A NASA illustration of the small helicopter Ingenuity, which will attempt the first-ever powered flight on another planet. AFP/NASA

FLORIDA - NASA is hoping to make history on Monday when the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter attempts the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The space agency had originally planned the flight for April 11 but postponed it over a software issue that was identified during a planned high-speed test of the aircraft's rotors.

"Each world gets only one first flight," MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said before the first attempt.

The helicopter traveled to Mars attached to the underside of the rover Perseverance, which touched down on the planet on February 18 on a mission to search for signs of extraterrestrial life.

Ingenuity's goal, by contrast, is to demonstrate its technology works, and it won't contribute to Perseverance's science goals. 

READ: NASA's Mars copter flight could happen as soon as Monday

But it is hoped that Ingenuity can pave the way for future flyers that revolutionize our exploration of celestial bodies because they can reach areas that rovers can't go, and travel much faster.

The timing of the helicopter flight is chosen with the weather on Mars in mind. Wind is the big unknown and could jeopardise the mission.

The flight is challenging because the air on Mars is so thin -- less than one percent of the pressure of Earth's atmosphere. 

The helicopter will rise for about six seconds, hover and rotate for about 30 seconds, then go back down.

The flight will be autonomous, pre-programmed into the aircraft because of the 15 minutes it takes for signals to travel from Earth to Mars. 

Shortly after this filming, six videos of 2.5 seconds each will be sent to Earth. NASA hopes at least one of them will show the helicopter in flight.

Source
AFP

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