NASA said on Saturday that it has postponed the first flight of its miniature helicopter on Mars for at least a few days after a possible technical problem in testing its rotors.
Ingenuity’s journey was originally scheduled to take place on Sunday. This was the first power-controlled flight on another planet in history, but it has been suspended until at least April 14.
Due to the vigilance of potential problems, Friday’s high-speed test of the four-pound (1.8 kg) helicopter rotor ended earlier than expected.
“The helicopter team is reviewing telemetry to diagnose and understand the issue,” NASA said in a statement. “Following that, they will reschedule the full-speed test.”
NASA noted the copter is “safe and healthy” and had sent information back to Earth.
Initially the plan for Sunday was to have Ingenuity fly for 30 seconds to take a picture of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on February 18 with the helicopter attached to its underside.
NASA calls the unprecedented helicopter operation highly risky, but says it could reap invaluable data about the conditions on Mars.
The flight is a true challenge because the air on Mars is so thin — less than one percent of the pressure of Earth’s atmosphere.
This means Ingenuity must spin its rotor blades much faster than a helicopter needs to do on Earth in order to fly.
After the flight, Ingenuity will send it persistent technical data and send its information back to Earth.
This will include black and white photos of the surface of Mars, which Ingenuity is programmed to capture while flying.
One day later, once the battery is fully charged again, Ingenuity will transmit another color photo of the Martian horizon taken with another camera.
If the flight is a success, NASA plans another no more than four days later. It plans as many as five altogether, each successively more difficult, over the course of a month.
NASA hopes to make the helicopter rise five meters (16 feet) and then move laterally.
The mission is be the equivalent on Mars of the first powered flight on Earth — by the Wright brothers in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A piece of fabric from that plane has been tucked inside Ingenuity in honor of that feat.