In a forbidding crater on Mars, a small helicopter with a smartphone brain is now a few days away from trying to make its first powered flight in another world. NASA hopes that its rotating robotic helicopter, called Ingenuity, can prove that it can fly in the thin air of dangerous Mars and help usher in a new era of planetary exploration, in which drones play a vital role.
The ingenuity reaches Mars like a yo-yo, folded on the underside of NASA’s Perseverance Rover, who landed on the Red Planet in February after a seven-month voyage of 293 million miles from Earth. For its first flight, the 4-pound, $85 million spacecraft will only rise to about 10 feet above the water, then hover (not higher than the edge of a conventional basketball hoop), and then return to the surface. The entire flight should end within 90 seconds.
Short trips-five of the one-month planned trips planned to begin around April 1
“We hope that Ingenuity will enable us to expand and open up air mobility on Mars,” said Bob Balaram, project lead engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
In a series of important events at the time of Mars this year, “tact” flight is a broader mission aimed at finding traces of past lives on this red planet as part of its broader mission.