Landmark on Mars: NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter survives only the first cold night

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

ASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Perseverance rover and Wit helicopter have a parent-child relationship. The helicopter spent its first weeks on Mars hidden in the belly of the rover, gaining power and keeping warm. Now the ambitious helicopter has survived a brutal Martian night on its own.

Essentially, Ingenuity moved out and went to college.

Perseverance dropped the device to the ground over the weekend and stepped back to allow the helicopter’s solar array to collect sunlight. The first night was a major concern for the Ingenuity team, but NASA announced Monday that the little flying machine had overcome the first major hurdle of its era of independence.

NASA called the helicopter’s survival “an important milestone.” Mars turns brutally cold, reaching down to minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius) in Jezero crater. That’s enough to mess with Ingenuity’s electronics and batteries, but the helicopter survived thanks to insulation, heaters, and enough battery to stay warm.

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

The next step is for Ingenuity to review its systems, release restrictions on the rotor blades, and test the blades and motors. Although it wasn’t originally looking before April 8 for the first floating test flight, NASA is now looking at April 11. If that goes well, more flight tests will follow.

The ingenuity aims to make aviation history. Have a small piece of fabric from the famous Wright brothers plane on board as you look forward to your own Kitty Hawk moment on Mars.

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