NASA’s newest Mars rover, Perseverance, successfully touched down on the surface of the red planet last month, and has been busying itself ever since setting up a base of operation and collecting samples for analysis. However, Perseverance wasn’t the only device NASA sent to Mars. Tucked away under the rover’s underside is Ingenuity, a device that will provide a whole new perspective of this alien world.
Ingenuity is tiny helicopter, not unlike a drone. In order to safely transport it on Perseverance, though, the device is carefully folded up like a puzzle. This folding is so complex, that it actually takes several days to completely undo, which is why Ingenuity can’t take off right this minute.
“It is stowed sideways, folded up and locked in place, so there’s some reverse origami to do before I can set it down. First though, I’ll be off to the designated ‘helipad,’ a couple days’ drive from here,” the Perseverance team wrote on Twitter.
Come fly with us. #MarsHelicopter is preparing to do something that’s never been done: controlled, powered flight on another planet. Takeoff is now slated for no earlier than April 11, with data arriving on Earth on April 12. https://t.co/TNCdXWcKWE pic.twitter.com/JSep5lcKhR
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 1, 2021
Interestingly, unlike Perseverance, which is designed to conduct its tasks relatively autonomously, Ingenuity is 100% user-controlled, the very first extraterrestrial device of its kind. Once it’s fully unfurled from Perseverance’s underside and properly deployed, the team will take direct control of it as its 4-foot battery-powered blades carry it around 10 feet above the ground. Ingenuity will then spend the next 30 Martian days (about 31 Earth days) scanning the surface and sending back video footage as it goes.
Ingenuity’s flight was originally scheduled for April 8, but in the interest of ensuring it’s properly unfolded and ready to launch, the team decided to tack on a few extra days just to play it safe. Ingenuity is now scheduled to begin its flight on April 11, with its video data slated to release to the public the following day.