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JPL gives Ingenuity helicopter a flight date and honors former engineer with spot on Mars

Today, during a press briefing on the first flight of Mars Helicopter Ingenuity, new information was revealed for the upcoming flight of Ingenuity. This first flight is currently targeting April 8th. When Perseverance first touched down, they determined that it landed right on the edge of an acceptable flight zone for Ingenuity.

Ingenuity, a NASA tech demonstration aircraft that tagged along on Perseverance’s belly for the ride to Mars, will attempt the first powered flight on another planet less than 120 years after the first flight of the Wright brothers plane. The small helicopter has an expected mission life span of about 31 Earth days so all the planned flights have to take place in a single month dubbed the “Month of Ingenuity”.

Once Perseverance has arrived at the center of the airfield and deployed Ingenuity to the surface of Mars, they will have 25 hours to move Perseverance for Ingenuity to charge its batteries. Once the batteries are charged then the teams will start planning the flight with the hopeful target of April 8th, but this date is subject to change based on any issues seen with the deployment process or local weather conditions on the Red Planet.

View of the airfield and flight zone from orbit. Credit: NASA HiRISE

“As with everything with the helicopter, this type of deployment has never been done before. Once we start the deployment there is no turning back. All activities are closely coordinated, irreversible, and dependent on each other. If there is even a hint that something isn’t going as expected, we may decide to hold off for a sol or more until we have a better idea [of] what is going on.”

Farah Alibay, Mars Helicopter integration lead

Overlook of Martian airfield named after former engineer

The most touching part of the media briefing was the announcement that the location which Perseverance will be located to support the flights of Ingenuity will be named the “Van Zyl Overlook” in honor of JPL Engineer Jakob Van Zyl, who passed away last year.

Location of Van Zyl Overlook near the Ingenuity’s flight zone. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jakob retired in 2019, following a 33-year career. He was an instrumental part of the development of the Mars Helicopter, and part of the missions for the spacecrafts Juno, Cassini, Insight, and others. The naming of this overlook on Mars will help preserve his memory and allow him to continue to inspire future generations to be curious and explore.

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