NASA's Perseverance has been on the surface of Mars for the better part of two months collecting data from the planet's Jezero Crater. Come Sunday, the rover will be involved in one of its biggest missions yet. NASA has given the green light to the Perseverance team to launch Ingenuity into the Martian skies this weekend, making it the first time a helicopter has been flown on the Red Planet.
Ingenuity previously made history upon Perseverance's landing back in February as humanity's first helicopter on Mars. Now, the craft will go on its maiden flight for approximately 40 seconds on Sunday. According to scheduling information released by NASA, Ingenuity will hover just nine feet above the surface for its first flight as it collects its first batch of video and data.
The entire flight will be conducted under the watchful eye of Perseverance, which will also help transmit the data back to NASA HQ. Though the flight takes place on Sunday, NASA doesn't expect the data to return until the twilight hours of Monday, around 3:30 a.m. Eastern time.
"Naturally the team is working really hard to be ready for that moment [of flight], so when we see that first data, that it works … it will be an incredible moment," Ingenuity operations lead Tim Canham said during a press conference on Friday.
In total, Perseverance will likely be on Mars for the better part of a decade, with some projections suggesting the rover could return Earth-side sometime in 2031.
“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a press release after the rover first landed. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet in the 2030s.”