NASA’s Mars helicopter is attempting its longest-ever flight this weekend. In fact, if you’re reading this on Sunday, the Ingenuity aircraft could be zipping across the martian surface at this very same moment.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will confirm the success of the flight just as soon as all of the data has come in.
If the helicopter manages to nail the flight plan, it’ll cover a distance 2,717 feet (828 meters) without touching the ground, smashing its previous record by 391 feet (119 meters) that was set during a flight in April 2022.
Ingenuity has clearly come a long way since its first hover in April 2021, a 39-second airborne adventure that sent it straight into the record books for becoming the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on a planet other than Earth.
Since then, the 4-pound, 19-inch-tall vehicle has flown increasingly complex missions during the nearly 70 flights that it’s taken on the red planet since arriving there with the Perseverance rover in February 2021.
Indeed, the helicopter has been so successful that the Mars team has been able to utilize the aircraft’s onboard camera to gather aerial data to help plan the best routes for Perseverance, which is exploring a part of the martian surface for signs of ancient microbial life.
Ingenuity and Perseverance, along with the Curiosity rover and three Mars orbiters, recently emerged from a month-long communications break with Earth after the planets’ orbits placed them on opposite sides of the sun. The so-called “solar conjunction” occurs once every couple of years and offers those working on the Mars missions a chance to take a well-earned break.
With everything fully functioning again, JPL is ready to once again put Ingenuity through its paces, with 2024 lining up to be an equally busy year for the plucky helicopter.
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