NASA Mars helicopter Ingenuity first flight: When will it fly, how to watch – CNET

The Ingenuity helicopter could make aviation history on Mars.


This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

Let’s take a moment to marvel at the phrase “the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.” NASA hopes to achieve that momentous milestone as soon as Monday, April 19 with the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.

The small rotorcraft hitched a ride to Mars under the belly of the Perseverance rover, which dropped it off on the surface about a week ago. The two machines posed for a picture together. The rover will act as a witness to Ingenuity’s efforts to get off the ground.

The flight attempt had been delayed from its original target date of April 11 to give NASA time to update the machine’s software after a spin test of the rotors ended too early. The helicopter has since successfully completed a rapid spin test, an important milestone that put it closer to liftoff.

The agency will livestream coverage of Ingenuity’s first flight on NASA TV. If all goes well, the helicopter will attempt its flight around 12:30 a.m. PT on Monday and NASA will start its livestream at 3:15 a.m. PT. “Data from the first flight will return to Earth a few hours following the autonomous flight,” the space agency said in a statement on Saturday.

This won’t be like watching a sporting event with live footage, but the NASA team hopes to get results back indicating a successful hover operation. A postflight briefing is then scheduled for 11 a.m. PT.

“The rover will provide support during flight operations, taking images, collecting environmental data, and hosting the base station that enables the helicopter to communicate with mission controllers on Earth,” said NASA in a statement.

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NASA has emphasized how Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. It will be thrilling if it works, but not shocking if it doesn’t. If the first flight goes well, then more attempts will follow. NASA has set the planned test flight period to last for up to 31 Earth days.

There’s a good-luck talisman along for the ride. Ingenuity has a tiny piece of the Wright Brothers’ famous Flyer attached to it, drawing a direct line between the making of aviation history on both Earth and Mars.

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