Mars milestone: NASA Ingenuity helicopter survives first cold night alone

Without the Perseverance rover to protect it, the Mars chopper is on its own.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
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The Ingenuity helicopter made it through its first cold Martian night all alone.


NASA's Perseverance rover and the little Ingenuity helicopter have something of a parent-child relationship. The rotorcraft spent its first weeks on Mars tucked into the rover's belly, getting power and being kept warm. Now the ambitious chopper has survived all on its own through a brutal Martian night. 

Essentially, Ingenuity has moved out and gone off to college.

Perseverance dropped Ingenuity to the ground over the weekend and backed away to allow the helicopter's solar array to gather sunlight. The first night was a big worry for the Ingenuity team, but NASA announced on Monday the little flying machine had passed the first great hurdle of its era of independence.

NASA called the helicopter's survival "a major milestone." Mars gets brutally cold, reaching as low as minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius) in the Jezero Crater. That's enough to mess with Ingenuity's electronics and batteries, but the chopper survived thanks to insulation, heaters and enough battery power to keep itself warm.

Ingenuity is a high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration. NASA hopes it will represent the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will act as a witness from an overlook location. 

NASA Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter explore the wilds of Mars

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The next step is for Ingenuity to check its systems out, release the restraints on its rotor blades and test out the blades and motors. While originally eyeing no earlier than April 8 for the first hovering test flight, NASA is now looking at April 11. If that goes well, more flight tests will follow.

Ingenuity is aiming to make aviation history. It has a tiny piece of fabric from the famous Wright Brothers' plane on board as it looks ahead to its very own Kitty Hawk moment on Mars. 

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Watch this: How NASA's Mars helicopter could change the future of space exploration