NASA is hoping to make history early 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.
The issue has since been resolved, and the four-pound (1.8 kilograms) drone could achieve its feat by around 3:30 am Eastern Time (0730 GMT).
Data, however, won’t arrive until several hours later, and NASA will begin a livestream at 6:15 am (1015 GMT).
“Each world gets only one first flight,” MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager, said before the first attempt.
The first powered flight on Earth was achieved by the Wright brothers in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honor of that feat.
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.
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 jeopardize 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.
That makes it much harder to achieve lift, even though it will be partly aided by a gravitational pull that is a third of Earth’s.
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