PASADENA (CBSLA) – The historic flight of NASA's Mars helicopter, which was slated for last week, but postponed due to technical issues, has been "cleared for takeoff" early on the morning of Monday, April 19, NASA JPL tweeted Sunday.
A live stream of the first attempt at powered flight on another planet will begin at 3:15 a.m. PDT.
The 4-pound solar-powered helicopter Ingenuity was scheduled to fly above the surface of Mars on April 11. However, the Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory tweeted on the morning of April 10 that during a test, there was a technical issue which delayed the flight to April 14 at the earliest.
"During the high-speed spin test, the sequence ended early during the transition from "preflight" to "flight" mode," JPL tweeted. "The helicopter is safe & healthy. The team is diagnosing the issue."
The problem was identified by engineers and by April 12, the teams had "identified a software solution," according to NASA.
"This software update will modify the process by which the two flight controllers boot up, allowing the hardware and the software to safely transition to the flight state," officials said.
JPL is planning to hover the chopper about 10 feet above the surface of Mars for a period of up to 30 seconds. It will mark the first instance of powered flight on another planet, if the attempt is successful.
The Ingenuity arrived on Mars aboard NASA's Perseverance rover, which landed safely on Mars in mid-February after a nearly seven-month journey spanning almost 300 million miles. The SUV-sized Perseverance, which was built at JPL, was sent to the Red Planet in July of 2020 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Ingenuity has no scientific instrumentation aboard. It is strictly a demonstration mission to determine the feasibility of operating such a craft on other planets.
"This is really going to be consequential if we can demonstrate that we can fly on Mars," NASA Planetary Science Director Lori Glaze told CBSLA this week.
If its flight does eventually occur, it will be more than five hours before JPL mission managers receive the first data back from the flight attempt. The helicopter's flight is completely autonomous, with the distance to Mars making it impossible to control the flight from JPL headquarters. Radio signals take more than 15 minutes to travel 173 million miles to Mars.
JPL commands to the helicopter are actually relayed by the Perseverance rover, which is parked about 215 feet from Ingenuity and will be watching any flight with its cameras. The helicopter itself is in the middle of a 33-foot-by-33-foot airfield chosen for its unobstructed terrain.
Ingenuity is also equipped with a camera that will document the flight.
Flying on another planet is vastly different than flying on Earth, with mission managers noting that gravity on Mars is about one-third of Earth's, while the atmosphere on the surface is about 1% as dense as that on Earth.
The helicopter is going to carry some Wright brothers history with it. Wrapped on a cable beneath the helicopter's solar panel is a small swatch of fabric that covered the wings of the plane that made the first flight on Earth -- Orville and Wilbur Wright's "Flyer" -- which pioneered air travel in 1903.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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