Earth is the only planet in the solar system with aircraft capable of sustained flight. Suppose the ground-breaking Ingenuity helicopter, currently stowed aboard the similarly spectacular Mars Perseverance rover, accomplishes its planned mission. In that case, Mars will become the second planet to have a powered aircraft fly through its atmosphere.
Ingenuity has sent its first status report since landing on Mars. The signal, which arrived via the iconic Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), reports on the state of the batteries of the helicopter as well as the operation of the base station, which, among other things, operates the critically important heaters that keep the electronics within an acceptable temperature range. Thankfully, it’s all good news for now, with the batteries and base station operating as expected.
Artist’s impression of Ingenuity flying above Mars with the Perseverance rover seen in the background. Credit NASA/JPL–Caltech
While Ingenuity still hasn’t performed a flight yet (hopefully, this becomes an outdated statement soon), the helicopter has already overcome some daunting challenges. Perhaps the most perilous portion of Ingenuity’s journey was the interplanetary trip from Earth to Mars as part of the larger Perseverance rover mission. Launched in July of 2020, Perseverance touched down ...