Photo Shows Mars Rover's Ingenuity Helicopter for First Time on Red Planet Ahead of Flight

NASA has released an image showing its Mars helicopter Ingenuity on the Red Planet for the first time ahead of its historic maiden flight.

Ingenuity is attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which landed in Mars' Jezero Crater on February 18. The helicopter was covered by a shield to protect the vehicle during descent and landing. But this shield has now detached from the rover, revealing the aerial vehicle.

"Away goes the debris shield, and here's our first look at the helicopter. It's stowed sideways, folded up and locked in place, so there's some reverse origami to do before I can set it down," the Perseverance rover Twitter account posted.

Meanwhile, the Ingenuity helicopter Twitter account posted: "Finally you can see me. That's a beautiful day on Mars. My brother @NASAPersevere just dropped my debris shield and you can see me! See you later."

Ingenuity's mission is separate from Perseverance's. The helicopter is a technology demonstration designed to test the viability of controlled, powered flight in the thin Martian atmosphere, which is less than one percent as dense as Earth's. This makes flying much more challenging than on our planet.

Away goes the debris shield, and here’s our first look at the helicopter. It’s stowed sideways, folded up and locked in place, so there’s some reverse origami to do before I can set it down. First though, I’ll be off to the designated “helipad,” a couple days’ drive from here.

— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) March 21, 2021

NASA says Ingenuity's pioneering maiden test flight is expected to begin no earlier than the first week of April. The test could be the first-ever demonstration of powered flight on another planet.

"The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, is the first rotorcraft to fly at mars," Perseverance engineer Nagin Cox from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California—where the rover was built—previously told Newsweek. "It will be the first time that we have flown a powered aircraft outside our atmosphere—making it a 'Wright Brothers' moment. Everything this helicopter does will be a first-time event."

Perseverance Integration Lead for the helicopter, Farah Alibay, who coordinates the activities between the helicopter and the rover, said on Friday that the team was "just about getting ready" for the flight mission. She said Ingenuity had passed all its latest reviews, although some final checks still remained.

Finally you can see me.
That's a beautiful day on Mars.
My brother @NASAPersevere just dropped my debris shield and you can see me !

See you later ☄

— NASA's Mars Ingenuity Helicopter (@IngenuityNasa) March 22, 2021

Currently, Ingenuity is still attached to the rover, which is charging the helicopter's batteries. The next step involves the rover travelling several days to the helicopter drop-off location.

"Once we get there, it's actually going to take us about a week to deploy the helicopter," Alibay said. "It's currently horizontal and we have to go through several steps... before we get to that very last step where we do that last separation between the rover and the helicopter and then drive away from it."

If all goes well, Ingenuity will conduct its very first flight early next month—hovering in the air for about 20-30 seconds before landing. It will then conduct a series of experimental flights over a 30-day period, incrementally increasing the distance it travels and the height it reaches.

NASA's Ingenuity Mars helicopter
Image showing the Ingenuity helicopter attached to the NASA's Mars Perseverance rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech