The first ever powered, controlled flight on another planet will take place in coming days. 

NASA has announced that the first attempt to fly the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter will be made around April 11. 

The small helicopter is the first aircraft humanity has sent to another planet to attempt powered, controlled flight. It was flown to mars on the belly of the Perseverance rover, landing together in Jezero Crater in February this year.

Ingenuity was sent across the Solar System as a technology demonstration. It does not carry science instruments as its objective is an engineering one: to demonstrate rotorcraft flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars. 

If its experimental flight test program succeeds, the data returned could benefit future explorations of Mars – including those by astronauts – by adding the aerial dimension, which is not available today.

Once a suitable site to deploy the helicopter is found, the rover’s Mars Helicopter Delivery System will shed the landing cover, rotate the helicopter to a legs-down configuration, and gently drop Ingenuity on the surface. 

The helicopter’s human flight controllers on Earth will not be able to control the unit with a joystick or to look at engineering data or images from each flight until well after the flight takes place.

So, Ingenuity will make some of its own decisions, based on parameters set by its engineers on Earth. Ingenuity has a kind of programmable thermostat, for instance, that will keep it warm on Mars. During flight, Ingenuity will analyse sensor data and images of the terrain to ensure it stays on the flight path programmed by project engineers.

A livestream confirming Ingenuity’s first flight is targeted to begin around 5:30 PM AEST on Monday, April 12. 

The ongoing livestream of the mission is accessible here.