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Mars milestone: NASA Ingenuity helicopter survives the first cold night alone



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

ASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s endurance rover and the small Invention helicopter have something of a parent-child relationship. The rotorcraft spent its first weeks on Mars tucked in the rover̵

7;s belly, gaining power and being kept warm. Now the ambitious helicopter has survived all alone through a brutal March evening.

In essence, ingenuity has moved out and gone to college.

Endurance dropped ingenuity to the ground over the weekend and backed away to let the helicopter’s solar panel collect sunlight. The first night was a major concern for the Ingenuity team, but NASA announced Monday that the small airplane had passed the first major obstacle of its independence.

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

Ingenuity is a demonstration of high risk and high reward. NASA hopes it will represent the first operated, controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will act as a witness from a place that is overlooked.

The next step is for Ingenuity to check the systems, release the restraints on the rotor blades and test the blades and motors. While it originally did not look until April 8 for the first hovering test flight, NASA is now looking at April 11. If all goes well, more flight tests will follow.

Ingenuity aims to create aviation history. It has one small piece of fabric from the famous Wright Brothers’ plane on board as it looks forward to its very own Kitty Hawk moment on Mars.

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