Ingenuity’re on: helicopter takes its first picture of Mars

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NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter is online on Mars. After being released to move alone on Martian soil on Saturday (3), the ingenious drone connected yesterday (5) and even released a color photo of the Jezero crater, taken as soon as he left the “belly” of the Perseverance rover.

The image, in low resolution, still does not impress because it shows only the gravel floor of the crater, part of the two wheels and the outline of the Perseverance shadow. The helicopter, which weighs about 1.8 kg, was lowered so that its resistance could be tested, having to endure, already on the first night, a temperature of -90º C.

The Perseverance rover landed in the 45-km crater on February 18 with the Ingenuity firmly trapped inside. After releasing it on Saturday, the space vehicle moved a close distance so that Martian sunlight could reach the helicopter to charge its solar-powered batteries.

Next Sunday (11), Ingenuity will perform its first flight test. Perseverance will head to a location called Van Zyl Overlook, from where it will have a good view of the “aerodrome” chosen by the mission team for the first flight of ground-based equipment on another planet.

What should the first flight on Mars be like?

The flight of Ingenuity on Mars is a purely conceptual test. According to engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the goal is just to see if the vehicle can fly on Mars. If Ingenuity performs well on its five flights scheduled for a month, future missions to the red planet may include helicopters as “scouts” for rovers or solo missions.

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Although it does not carry any type of scientific instrument on board, the small drone will capture aerial images during its flights. According to NASA designers, these photos should be much better and sharper than this first photo released on Monday.

Perseverance will witness this pioneering flight, and will attempt to document it directly from the Van Zyl Overlook, using its own high-resolution camera system installed on the mast, the MastCam-Z. There is even the possibility that the rover will be able to record audio from the Ingenuity propellers, although the rarefied atmosphere of Mars may attenuate the sound.

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