The Wright Brothers moment of the twenty-first century has finally arrived. The very first powered flight to occur on an alien planet, Mars. NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has made it’s historic test mission and the livestream is available here at the official NASA YouTube channel. NASA will livestream the flight data’s arrival on Earth at 3:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, April 12.
Helicopter hovers over Mars
The anticipation has been building for months but the mission started years ago. “Every step we have taken since this journey began six years ago has been uncharted territory in the history of aircraft,” Bob Balaram explains. He is Mars Helicopter chief engineer at JPL.
The first challenge was getting the UAV to the surface of the red planet. It was tightly tucked inside the lander, a rover named “Perseverance.” The rocket scientists not only had to figure out how to fit it in, snug and secure, but also how it could unpack itself without help on arrival.
Project manager Mimi Aung describes that the first step after Perseverance landed was turning the chopper on to make sure it survived the impact. It did. The next tricky job was getting it to the ground. Before they could do that, the rover had to find a good spot to conduct test operations. Once in place, things got complicated.
They call the smooth ballet of technology the “Mars helicopter delivery system.” It really is “a very intricate system” that took about 10 days to complete, which happened last Saturday. Finally, Ingenuity was born from the Perseverance mother ship, on it’s own, and freezing. “Temperatures at night can drop to as low as -130 degrees Fahrenheit.”
As Ms. Aung notes, “the moment that drop happens is the moment that Ingenuity has to start operating on its own in a standalone fashion.” The four pound infant “has to survive the cold frigid nights of Mars.” To “keep itself warm, it has to garner energy from the sun through its solar panels to charge its battery.”
Once the batteries are boosted, the unit can phone home by calling the International Space Station. NASA confirmed April 5 that the “Ingenuity helicopter had survived its first night alone on the frigid surface” and is now “in the final stages of preparation for its history-making liftoff on another planet.” The mission is scheduled for Sunday but there will be a huge delay on the “live” feed. That won’t come down to Earth until Monday morning.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 5, 2021
Search for ancient life
NASA is posting the video as soon as it comes in on both YouTube and Facebook on their official channels. Through the month of April, Ingenuity is scheduled for a total of five experimental flights. They won’t be as easy as it seems. Most people don’t realize how far away Mars is. Depending on the relative position with Earth, it takes light anywhere between 3 and 22 minutes to travel, one way.
That means a human pilot on Earth is useless, so the craft must operate fully on it’s own. It won’t weigh as much, only around a third of what it would on Earth, but the “mass” stays exactly the same which affects how it will fly. On top of that, there isn’t much air. The barren red planet only has a mere 1% of Earth’s atmosphere.”
The first Mars mission isn’t expected to produce any spectacular results but the Wright Brother’s historic first flight on Earth only lasted 12 seconds. This is more of a “demonstration of technology” the engineers insist.
NASA plans to send the copter straight up to a full 10 feet of altitude and hold there for a measured 30 seconds. That way, if anything goes wrong it’s about the same as a fall of 3 feet here on Earth and not likely to do much damage.
Officials expect the livestream from Mars to begin on Earth at 3:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, April 12 but they note “the flight date may shift as engineers work on the deployments, preflight checks, and vehicle positioning of both Perseverance and Ingenuity,” NASA said in a statement, noting that “timing will be updated at the helicopter’s webpage as needed.”
Provided all goes as expected, “the livestream will show the helicopter team analyzing the first test flight data in JPL’s Space Flight Operations Facility.”