NASA's Mars helicopter Ingenuity has survived its first cold Martian night on its own. The space agency's Perseverance rover, which landed safely in the Jezero Crater on the surface of Mars on February 18, has been carrying the helicopter Ingenuity in its belly.
On Saturday the rover dropped Ingenuity onto the surface of Mars, where it would have to survive temperatures as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius.
And under these frigid conditions the 1.8-kilograms helicopter survived its first chilly night, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced earlier today.
"We actually survived the first night. That is huge, that was one of the huge, huge achievements that we've been looking forward to," Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity deputy operations lead, said during a live Q&A session on Monday.
"Being able to drop under our own energy, sustain ourselves, keep ourselves warm throughout the night, and then wake up and talk with Perseverance and say, 'Yep, we're here. We're alive and healthy.' The team couldn't be happier," Tzanetos added.
Ingenuity went through a series of movements to unfold from beneath the Perseverance rover, which looked like the metamorphosis of a butterfly, before dropping the final 4 inches to the Martian surface.
NASA does plan to fly Ingenuity, which could happen as soon as April 11. This lift-off will be the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. In a nod to the first such feat conducted on Earth, Ingenuity carries a swatch of fabric from the Wright brothers' plane, Flyer 1.
First, the team had to find the right area or airfield, for the craft to take flight.
"We found a perfect location," Vandi Verma, Perseverance chief engineer for robotic operations, said during a flight preview webinar on Monday.
The Indian-American further added, "It meets all the requirements of the airfield that we wanted: it's nice and flat, and it has just the right amount of rocks -- we wanted some amount of rocks so that the cameras on the helicopter can do good feature detection -- but good landing spots could be identified and also the slopes were appropriate."
NASA will have Ingenuity lift up and fly for the first time for about 30 seconds and then land. The helicopter will reach about 15 feet (4.6 meters) in the sky with this flight, Tzanetos said.
With the success of its inaugural flight, the Ingenuity mission team will fly the craft four more times within the 30 sols, or Mars days, (about 31 Earth days) anticipated for the mission. The average flight length will be about 90 seconds, according to Tzanetos.
But for now, the Ingenuity team is just thrilled that the helicopter has made it so far, surviving one of the biggest (and coldest) challenges of its mission. "Our team is over the moon," Aung said.
By Reena Bhardwaj