Marswatch: high hopes for first powered controlled flight on another planet

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Welcome to the first in a new series of occasional Marswatch columns. With the change of administration in America, the moon landings scheduled for 2024 are likely to be moved back to their original target of 2028. So we thought we’d change our focus to Mars.

The big news at Mars is the landing of Nasa’s rover Perseverance. It touched down on 18 February and has been successfully exploring the 28-mile-wide (45km) Jezero crater ever since.

The next major mission milestone will be the deployment of Ingenuity, a small helicopter that is stowed beneath the rover. Perseverance is heading towards the deployment zone, a flat stretch of land largely clear of boulders that measures 10 by 10 metres across.

Once there, it will place Ingenuity to the ground and drive away. In preparation, on 21 March, the rover dropped the guitar-shaped debris shield that had been protecting the helicopter. Once on the ground, Ingenuity will begin its series of test flights. If it succeeds, it will be humankind’s first powered, controlled flight on another planet. The attempts will begin no earlier than 8 April.

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