NASA plans the first flight of the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars for Monday


NASA has rescheduled the maiden flight of its Ingenuity Mars helicopter to April 19 at 3:30 a.m.ET, the agency announced Saturday.

The four-pound helicopter that arrived on Mars with its parent rover Perseverance on Feb. 18 has delayed its maiden flight several times. It hit the surface of Mars on April 4, undergoing tests and checkouts. It survived its first night alone on the icy surface of Mars and passed an initial test of its independence from persistence.

The craft was scheduled to fly on April 11, but last weekend NASA said data from a rapid rotor test showed the test series ended prematurely as Ingenuity’s computer attempted to switch from pre-flight to flight mode. Ingenuity was experiencing a minor software glitch.

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory decided to change and reinstall Ingenuity’s flight control software, a process that took several days. NASA tweeted Friday night that Ingenuity had completed a full speed spin test and a decision on the next flight date was imminent. The tiny helicopter waited on the surface of the Jezero crater on Mars while NASA engineers tested and reinstalled the flight software.

While ingenuity isn’t the main focus of Perseverance’s mission on Mars – looking for signs of life and taking dirt samples – the tiny helicopter could represent a leap forward in human exploration of Mars and other celestial bodies. Rovers like Perseverance can only go so far and have no details on what might come their way. But a small craft like Ingenuity can become like a scout, flying ahead to help the rover navigate the surface of Mars and reach areas other vehicles might not be able to reach.

Once it takes off, Ingenuity climbs about 10 feet (3 meters), then hangs in place for 30 seconds before spinning in mid-air and descending back to the surface. The camera at the bottom takes 30 photos per second from the ground. A larger camera will face the horizon and take pictures in flight, while at the same time Perseverance’s cameras will take pictures of Ingenuity flying.

If you’re in the mood for an early Monday (or late at night, depending on where you are), you can watch Ingenuity’s flight live stream starting at 6:15 a.m. ET / 3:15 a.m. PT, on NASA Television , the office of website, and social media platforms, including YouTube and Facebook