Watch NASA attempt to fly its Ingenuity helicopter on Mars for the first time early on Monday

  • NASA is set to fly its Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, for the first time early on Monday.
  • If Ingenuity flies successfully, it could change how we explore other planets — and beam back unprecedented video.
  • Watch NASA’s livestream from mission control below.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

NASA is about to fly its Mars helicopter for the first time. The feat could revolutionize spaceflight.

The helicopter, called Ingenuity, traveled nearly 300 million miles to the red planet tucked inside the belly of the Perseverance rover. Now it’s sitting in an airfield in Mars’ Jezero Crater, where it’s set to take the first controlled, powered flight ever conducted on another planet early on Monday.

You can watch NASA attempt this feat via a livestream from mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California (it’s embedded below). But you’ll have to either stay up late or wake up early: The stream begins at 3:30 a.m. ET on Monday.

Perseverance took a selfie with Ingenuity on April 6, 2021.NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Seán Doran

Witnessing the first extraterrestrial helicopter flight may be worth it, though.

Ingenuity will conduct its entire flight autonomously. The 4-pound rotorcraft is set to spin its four carbon-fiber blades in opposite directions at about 2,400 revolutions per minute — about eight times as fast as a passenger helicopter on Earth. That’s necessary because the Martian atmosphere is 100 times thinner than Earth’s. 

NASA/JPL-Caltech

The rapid rotor spinning should lift Ingenuity about 10 feet off the ground, then gently lower it back down for this first flight. If all goes well, Ingenuity will attempt up to four more airborne escapades after that, over the course of 30 days. Each of those flights would be increasingly difficult, with the drone venturing higher and further each time.

Because it takes at least 8 minutes for a signal from Mars to travel to Earth, and vice versa, the engineers and technicians who run Ingenuity can only bite their nails and wait for the signal that the helicopter has flown and landed on Monday.

“I’m sure we’re all going to be pretty on edge,” Josh Ravich, mechanical lead for the Ingenuity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Insider. “Definitely nervous. I mean, it’s after years and years of work, you know, kind of waiting for that little one moment to come back.”

Watch NASA fly its Mars helicopter live

Ingenuity is a technology demonstration meant to test NASA’s rotorcraft technology on another planet. So beyond flying and capturing photos and video from the air, it won’t conduct any science. It could, however, pave the way for future extraterrestrial helicopters that would do reconnaissance for rovers and astronauts, study the surface of Mars or other planets from the air, and fly through canyons and cliffs that may be inaccessible to rovers.

The NASA TV livestream below will show the agency’s Space Flight Operations Facility starting at 3:30 a.m. ET on Monday. That’s where engineers like Ravich will be waiting anxiously to hear from the helicopter.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/21X5lGlDOfg

“By its nature, it’s going to have a little bit more risk than a than a normal mission,” Ravich said. “There’s a lot of things that could go wrong.”

You won’t be able to watch the flight itself in real time — NASA can’t livestream from another planet — but video of and from the flight will likely become available soon afterwards. The helicopter is set to record the ground below it using two cameras on its belly (one in black-and-white for navigation and one in color). Perseverance, meanwhile, is expected to record the flight from a nearby overlook.

It’s not yet known how long it will take to get that video back to Earth, and for NASA to publish it. Perseverance beamed back complete video footage of its landing within three days. 

This could be the first of 5 flights

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter, photographed on Mars by the Perseverance rover on April 4, 2021.NASA/JPL-Caltech

If everything goes as NASA hopes, Ingenuity’s fifth and final flight could carry the helicopter over 980 feet (300 meters) of Martian ground.

“Each one of those [flights] is probably going to be, you know, a pretty tense and exciting experience,” Ravich said.

But even if Ingenuity only completes this first 10-foot hover, that would be a major achievement.

“It will be truly a Wright brothers moment, but on another planet,” MiMi Aung, the project manager for the helicopter team, said in a briefing before the rover landed. “Every step going forward will be first of a kind.”

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