NASA's Ingenuity helicopter in flight on Mars. Early Monday, around 3:30 a.m. ET, the space drone attempted to fly over an airfield in Mars' Jezero Crater. Prospects for future flights rest largely on a safe, four-point touchdown the first time.
NASA is about to find out what happened.
Ingenuity's goal on Mars was simply to show that rotorcraft technology can work in that kind of harsh environment.
NASA already has a helicopter mission in development: A rotorcraft called Dragonfly is set to launch toward Saturn's moon Titan in 2027. Ingenuity weighs 4 pounds on Earth, but only 1.5 pounds on Mars. If all has gone well, Ingenuity will attempt up to four more airborne escapades over the course of 30 days. As the atmosphere on Mars is just 1 percent of the density of Earth's atmosphere, Ingenuity has disproportionately large rotor blades for its tiny body, and will have to spin them at a dizzying 2,500 rotations per minute. The Perseverance rover - which carried Ingenuity to Mars - watched the liftoff from a nearby overlook, filming as well. So the engineers and technicians who run Ingenuity can only bite their nails and wait for the signal that the helicopter has flown and landed. "Well, you know, I'm hugging you virtually".
The successful flight of Ingenuity will also have implications for the drone revolution on Earth, said Dr Flannery, who has also worked on a number of projects designing robot and drone technologies for NASA.
The released debris shield, center, for the Ingenuity helicopter, dropped on the surface of Mars from the bottom of the Perseverance rover.
A modest debut is likewise in store for NASA's twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter Ingenuity. "There's a lot of things that could go wrong".
During the short flight, a black-and-white navigation camera on its belly snapped the photo. An unexpectedly strong wind gust is one potential peril that could spoil the flight.
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© NASA/JPL-Caltech A Perseverance "selfie" showcases cameras on the remote-sensing mast at the end of the rover's robotic arm. Below that are two carbon fiber rotors that turn in opposite directions.
Engineers say the helicopter is in great shape and is ready for the test flight. Ingenuity's engineers have since fixed the problem by tweaking the helicopter's flight-control software.
NASA's experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.
The flight is the first of as many as five scheduled during a month-long test campaign.
Scientists cheered the news from around the world, and even from space: "The shadow of greatness, #MarsHelicopter first flight on another world complete!"
By then, though, "it would be unlikely to land safely, because we'll start going into unsurveyed areas", MiMi Aung, the project manager for Ingenuity, said in a briefing.
This post has been updated with new information.