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NASA Mars helicopter set to attempt its first one-way trip on Friday – CNET

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NASA’s experimental Ingenuity helicopter hopes to take to the Martian air for its fifth flight on May 7.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

This story is part of Welcome to Mars, our series exploring the red planet.

The Ingenuity helicopter’s new theme song should be Blondie’s One Way or Another. The Mars rotorcraft is ready to attempt its very first one-way flight on Friday. So far, the helicopter has acted like a homing pigeon by continually returning to the same Martian roost. 

NASA is targeting 12:36 p.m. PT on May 7 for the chopper’s fifth flight. It takes several hours for the data to return to Earth and let the team know if the flight was successful. 

There are other ambitious goals for this flight besides the landing location. Ingenuity is scheduled to fly to 16 feet (5 meters) above the surface and then travel south 423 feet (129 meters). Once it hits that mark, it will aim for a height record of 33 feet in order to snap some images of the terrain. It will then land after about 110 seconds of flight time.

The Ingenuity team used the rotorcraft’s fourth flight to scout out the new landing spot, which NASA described in a statement as “flat as a pancake.” The space agency doesn’t want its experimental machine to touch down on rocks that might tilt it.

Ingenuity has been a star on Mars. It has completed a series of increasingly ambitious flights and will enter a new demonstration phase if the next flight succeeds. The helicopter team will focus on showing how it can be used to survey the landscape and assist the Perseverance rover in its own science mission.

NASA seems to be marveling at the helicopter’s exploits. Ingenuity’s mechanical engineering lead Josh Ravich wrote in an update: “Our helicopter is even more robust than we had hoped.”

Follow CNET’s 2021 Space Calendar to stay up to date with all the latest space news this year. You can even add it to your own Google Calendar.     

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