In major milestone, NASA Mars helicopter triumphantly survives first cold night alone

The Ingenuity helicopter made it through its first cold Martian night all alone.


ASA/JPL-Caltech

There’s something of a parent-child relationship between NASA’s Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter. The rotorcraft spent its first weeks on Mars tucked into the rover’s belly, getting power and being kept warm. Now the ambitious chopper has survived all on its own through a brutal Martian night. 

Essentially, Ingenuity has moved out and gone off to college.

Perseverance dropped Ingenuity to the ground over the weekend and backed away to allow the helicopter’s solar array to gather sunlight. The first night was a big worry for the Ingenuity team, but NASA announced on Monday the little flying machine had passed the first great hurdle of its era of independence.

NASA called the helicopter’s survival “a major milestone.” Mars gets brutally cold, reaching as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius) in the Jezero Crater. That’s enough to mess with Ingenuity’s electronics and batteries, but the chopper survived thanks to insulation, heaters and enough battery power to keep itself warm.

Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. NASA hopes it will represent the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will act as a witness from an overlook location. 

The next step is for Ingenuity to check its systems out, release the restraints on its rotor blades and test out the blades and motors. While originally eyeing no earlier than April 8 for the first hovering test flight, NASA is now looking at April 11. If that goes well, more flight tests will follow.

Ingenuity is aiming to make aviation history. It has a tiny piece of fabric from the famous Wright Brothers’ plane on board as it looks ahead to its very own Kitty Hawk moment on Mars. 

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