This is how the process to fly Ingenuity on Mars begins 1:17
In April, a moment like the one the Wright brothers gave us on Earth more than 100 years ago will happen on Mars: an aircraft - in this case NASA's Ingenuity helicopter - will try to make the first powered flight in Martian sky.
The Ingenuity Mars helicopter will attempt its first power-controlled flight no earlier than April 8, according to NASA.
It is fitting that the mission, an experimental companion to the Perseverance rover, carries a piece of history.
A postage stamp-sized piece of muslin cloth that covered one of the wings of the Wright brothers' Flyer 1 aircraft is connected to a wire underneath the helicopter's solar panel.
A different piece of wing material, known as "Pride of the West" - along with a wood chip from the Flyer - flew in 1969 on the Apollo 11 mission, traveling to the Moon and back to our planet.
The first controlled powered flight on Earth took place on the Flyer near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, when Orville and Wilbur Wright flew almost 100 feet for 12 seconds in December 1903. The brothers made history when they flew four different flights. on December 17, 1903, each a little longer than the last.
The Ingenuity team hopes to do the same.
“When NASA's Sojourner rover landed on Mars in 1997, it proved that it was possible to roam the red planet and completely redefined our approach to how we explore Mars.
Similarly, we want to learn about Ingenuity's potential for the future of scientific research, ”Lori Glaze, director of NASA's Division of Planetary Sciences, said in a statement.
What does the Ingenuity helicopter have to do before trying to fly Mars?
However, before it can make its historic flight on Mars, Ingenuity has to complete a series of steps that will take place in the coming weeks.
In this instance, the 1.8 kg helicopter's ability to survive the harsh conditions on Mars without the help of Perseverance will be tested.
For now, the Ingenuity helicopter remains safely underneath the rover and connected to the rover's power supply.
The debris shield, which protected the helicopter during the rover's landing in February, was released on March 21.
This image shows the Ingenuity flight zone from the rover's perspective.
The rover is currently heading to the nearby 10 by 10 meter 'airfield' that the Ingenuity team chose to test how the helicopter flies.
The site was named after Jakob van Zyl, former director of solar system exploration and associate director of project formulation and strategy at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
He died in August 2020.
After depositing the Ingenuity on the surface, which is friendly and flat, the Perseverance will carefully back up and take photos of the helicopter.
Although it seems simple, this process will take a little more than six days.
Commands sent from teams on Earth will help release the locking mechanism that holds the helicopter against the belly of the rover.
When Perseverance stops 'protecting' Ingenuity
This image shows the location where the helicopter crew will attempt their test flights.
Once on the Martian surface, the helicopter will make some test movements and turns of the rotor blades.
It will have to charge using its solar panel and endure frosty nights, which on Mars can reach -90 degrees Celsius.
The Ingenuity will have 31 days to carry out the test flights, which could be up to five depending on the success of the first.
The first flight involves the helicopter taking off about 10 feet from the ground and hovering for about 30 seconds before landing.
Subsequent flights will take longer.
The Ingenuity helicopter photographed when it was on Earth.
"Ingenuity is an experimental engineering flight test, we want to see if we can fly on Mars," said MiMi Aung, project manager for the Ingenuity Mars helicopter at JPL.
"We are confident that all the engineering data that we want to obtain both on the surface of Mars and in the air can be done within this 30-sun window," he explained.
The suns are the Martian days, which last a little longer than the Earth days.
That's why the Ingenuity was designed to be small and lightweight, and built with internal heaters to survive cold nights.
"Every step we've taken since starting this journey six years ago has been uncharted territory in aviation history," said Balaram of Ingenuity.
"And while deploying to the surface will be a great challenge, surviving that first night on Mars alone, without the rover protecting and providing power, will be an even greater challenge," he explained.