Livestream on the Mars helicopter starts now. IT FLEW!

April 19, 2021 • 5:15 am

UPDATE: Everything appears to have been copacetic: the flight was successful and there are even photographs from the rover.  First is a photo from the Ingenuity showing its shadow on Mars, and the second is a photo from the Rover showing the Ingenuity in the air!

According to the NYT, the Mars helicopter Ingenuity, which weighs only about four pounds, has already attempted its first flight, but we don’t yet know the results as they must be transmitted to Earth. I’m posting this at 5:15 Eastern time, when that data and perhaps video on the flight are supposed to start arriving. The first go will be a short hop, only about 30 seconds long, and the video link is at the bottom. Given the thinness of Mars’s atmosphere (offset a bit by its lower gravity), this feat has been compared to flying a helicopter at an Earth altitude of 100,000 feet—something that’s never been done.

A gif of the Ingenuity (courtesy NASA/JPL CalTech):

From the paper:

At the Ingenuity site on Mars, which is within an ancient crater named Jezero, it will be the middle of the day, about 12:30 p.m. local Mars solar time. (The time zones on the red planet don’t have names, yet.)

For people on Earth, that translates to about 3:30 a.m. Eastern time on Monday. But no one on Earth will know for hours whether the flight has succeeded or failed, or if anything has happened at all. Neither Ingenuity nor Perseverance will be in contact with NASA at that time.

Instead, the two spacecraft will conduct the flight autonomously, executing commands that were sent to them on Sunday. Later, Perseverance will send data back to Earth via a spacecraft orbiting Mars.

NASA TV will begin broadcast from the control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory beginning at 6:15 a.m. Eastern time as the data starts arriving on Earth. You can watch it on NASA’s website.

I’ve put the NASA YouTube feed below:

Additional information will be provided at a news conference at 2 p.m. Eastern time on Monday.

Click below to watch, and fingers crossed. Look how young all the kids are in the helicopter control room!

The Wikipedia article on Ingenuity gives a lot of useful information, and the most poignant piece is this:

Ingenuity carries a piece of fabric from the wing of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the Wright Brothers‘ airplane, humanity’s first controlled powered flight on Earth.

Can you imagine how the Wright brothers would have reacted had they been told 118 years ago that part of their own plane would be flying on Mars?

Perseverance took its first drive on Mars

March 6, 2021 • 10:30 am

Yesterday Perseverance finally revved itself up and took a short drive: 33 minutes.  It apparently went well; as CNN reports:

The NASA Perseverance rover has taken its first drive on Mars, traveling about 21 feet and doing a little spin across Jezero Crater. And that first 33-minute test drive on Thursday went “incredibly well,” according to Anais Zarifian, Perseverance’s mobility test bed engineer.

Perseverance sent back images of its wheel tracks across the red Martian surface Friday.

This is the first of many checkouts and milestones for the rover after its successful landing on February 18. Once the mission truly begins exploring Mars, it will go on drives averaging about 656 feet or more.

“When it comes to wheeled vehicles on other planets, there are few first-time events that measure up in significance to that of the first drive,” Zarifian said. “This was our first chance to ‘kick the tires’ and take Perseverance out for a spin. The rover’s six-wheel drive responded superbly. We are now confident our drive system is good to go, capable of taking us wherever the science leads us over the next two years.”
During the first drive, the rover drove forward 13 feet, performed a 150-degree turn to the left and reversed 8 feet. The rover was able to turn its cameras to the site where it landed.
Here’s the “wheelie selfie”, showing the tracks that proved the thing moved, and below that is a video report on the drive featuring NASA engineers, with some nice footage of Perseverance’s trial on Earth.


We don’t yet have video from Perseverance in the surface, and I’m not sure why that is. But of course I’m greedy; it’s just amazing that we put a wheeled vehicle on Mars that is tootling about and will soon pick up rocks and drill into the surface. What an achievement! What boggles my mind the most is that a species of primate, wresting materials from the earth alone, forged all technology to get this thing to Mars, set it down, and drive it about.

h/t: Charles

Video and photos of Mars Rover at last!

February 22, 2021 • 2:24 pm

Reader Bryan sent this video from NASA that shows Mars mission experts discussing the landing of Perseverance.  At last we can see some video of the parachute deploying, the head shield falling off, and the skycrane lowering the rover to the surface. It’s amazing! They show video and photos from several cameras.

The discussion still going on, so scroll back to when you start seeing images of the rover module (about -1 hour and 10 minutes when I post this).  Don’t miss this.

Mars Perseverance Rover lands today!

February 18, 2021 • 8:30 am

Today the Mars Rover “Perseverance” will land on the Red Planet at 3:55 p.m. Eastern U.S. time (2:55 Chicago time, 8:55 pm London time). You’ll want to be online then, for the landing will be filmed live with several cameras and a microphone. NASA has a countdown page here, which links to all kinds of information about the Rover and the mission.

The live NASA videocast, however, begins over an hour earlier, at 2:15 p.m. EST, 1:15 Chicago time, and 7:15 p.m. London time. You can watch it live below. Be sure to set your alarm for at least 3:30 p.m. Eastern time so you can be there during the Seven Minutes of Terror. Watch at the site below:


Other places you can watch are these: NASA’s public TV channelwebsiteappYouTubeTwitterFacebookLinkedInTwitchDaily Motion or THETA.TV. There’s also a Spanish-language broadcast here.

Remember, if the landing is successful, we won’t see the live video until at least eleven minutes after touchdown, for that’s how long the signal takes to get from Mars to Earth.

Fingers crossed! If all goes well, we can puff out our chests and share a bit of pride in humanity—and science. (And don’t forget that science also gave us the Covid vaccines.)


Mars Rover “Perseverance” lands tomorrow

February 17, 2021 • 11:00 am

Tomorrow the Mars Rover “Perseverance” will land on the Red Planet at 3:55 p.m. Eastern U.S. time (2:55 Chicago time, 8:55 pm London time). You’ll want to be awake then, for the landing will be filmed live with several cameras! NASA has a countdown page here, which links to all kinds of information about the Rover and the mission. Tomorrow afternoon I’ll post some links where you can watch the landing, assuming that all goes well.

The landing sequence of this gizmo in Jezero Crater is known as “The Seven Minutes of Terror” because the slowing down of the spacecraft from 12,100 miles per hour to just 1.7 mpg right before landing takes seven minutes and a ton of complicated technology. All of that was recently programmed into the spacecraft and rover: since there’s an 11-minute delay between Earth and Mars communication, we won’t know whether the Rover has landed until it’s all over.  And there’s nothing anybody can do to help at Mission Control.

Here’s a NASA animation showing how damn complicated this landing will be! It involves separation of the module containing the rover, deployment of a parachute, jettisoning of a heat shield, jets helping navigate over the surface to find a good landing spot, and most amazing, a “sky crane” that gently lowers the rover to the planet’s surface and then flies away.

It’s stunning that a mammalian species can pull off something like this. Don’t miss the live feed tomorrow!

This is a SCIENCE mission, and the rover will be landing in a crater that harbors an ancient delta. As reports,

Perseverance, or “Percy” for short, will explore the Martian terrain and conduct a number of science investigations. Among its objectives, Percy will collect samples, deploy the first helicopter beyond Earth, and search for signs of ancient life on the fourth planet from the sun.

And from the USA Today link above courtesy of NASA, a timeline of the landing:

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

I guess there will be sound, too, as there is an array of cameras and a microphone:

h/t: Tom

SpaceX to try again with the Starship rocket at 5:30 Eastern time today

December 9, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Yesterday, as I noted in a post, SpaceX had scheduled a trial launch of its Starship rocket, designed to host long-distance space travel to the Moon, or to Mars. Unfortunately, the liftoff, originally scheduled for yesterday morning, was aborted at the last second.

Update December 8th, 5:45PM ET: SpaceX counted all the way down to launch on Tuesday afternoon, but at 1.3 seconds to liftoff, the Raptor engines initiated an abort and the Starship prototype didn’t take flight. The company will provide updates about its next launch opportunity on its Twitter account.

There’s no update on the Twitter account, but the first video below now says the liftoff is scheduled for 4:30 CST, which is 5:30 Eastern time. The launching pad is in south Texas, so 4:30 pm is local time. They don’t have much of a window:

If this issue can be diagnosed and addressed, SpaceX has a back-up opportunity on Wednesday, during the daylight hours in Texas, to try again. The window runs from 8am CT (14:00 UTC) to 5pm (23:00 UTC). Fortunately, weather appears to be exceptional on Wednesday.

I’ll post this note if the launch is rescheduled. If so, you can watch it at two places:

SpaceX site:

Or this site, which has commentary (it may move later):

SpaceX plans launch today of Starship rocket designed for long-distance space travel; watch live here

December 8, 2020 • 12:45 pm

I forgot about an email I got earlier from reader Jon about SpaceX’s planned launch today of its “Starship”, the rocket that Elon Musk has planned will take humans to Mars. The launch was scheduled for 10 a.m. Chicago time, and it’s past that, but now I see they company has delayed the launch, as they’re “working through additional test preparations.”

Some explanation from Vox’s “The Verge”:

Sometime today, SpaceX hopes to conduct a pivotal test flight of its next-generation Starship rocket, flying a prototype of the vehicle to its highest altitude yet. The company plans to launch the massive rocket to a height of nearly 8 miles, or 12.5 kilometers, up above SpaceX’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas, before landing the vehicle back down on the ground again.

The test is meant to prove out Starship’s capability of launching and landing upright, something the spacecraft will be expected to do both on Earth and on other worlds. SpaceX aims to use Starship to send cargo and people to deep-space destinations like the Moon and Mars. A test like this will help demonstrate Starship’s ability to perform a controlled flight and see if the rocket’s hardware — particularly the three main Raptor engines — functions as expected.

Launch and landing are just part of today’s test. On its website, SpaceX claims the Starship prototype will actually perform “a landing flip maneuver, which would be a first for a vehicle of this size.” There aren’t many details about the maneuver publicly available, but it’s a risky test that could easily go wrong, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk only giving the flight a “1/3 chance” of success. SpaceX itself is also deemphasizing the possibility that the test will pull off a perfect launch and landing.

I don’t know if the launch will proceed today, but if it does you can watch it below. I’ll post this again if the launch preparations are resumed tomorrow.

A fantastic view of the surface of Mars

August 25, 2020 • 2:00 pm

Here’s a stunning ten-minute video of the surface of Mars composed of a series of images strung together (up to a thousand in one panorama), with the photos coming from three different rovers. The large panoramas are then scanned with a video camera, a technique made famous by Ken Burns in his documentaries.

I don’t know about you, but watching this, and seeing Mars in broad daylight, made me feel plenty weird. No human has set foot here, and perhaps, though the planet once had water, there was never life of any sort.  And yet we fly spacecraft there and plant fiendishly clever rovers that roam the surface and show us what it’s like.

Will humans ever make it there (a seven-month trip one way)? I’ll never know.

Off to get a haircut!


h/t: Paul

Mars Rover starts its mission today (launch 7:50 a.m. EDT); watch launch now

July 30, 2020 • 6:30 am

Reader Jon Mummaw alerted me, and I’m alerting you, that the new Mars rover is being launched today. In fact, in about 20 minutes from when this post goes up, the rocket will take off.  You can watch it live at the links below. Perseverance will not only collect soil samples from the bed of an ancient Martian lake, hoping to find evidence of any form of life (the samples will someday be returned to Earth, they say), but also has its own drone called Ingenuity.  CNN describes several of the technological features of the rover and drone. And below I’ve reproduced Jon’s words with links.

Perseverance, an updated version of the mars rover Curiosity, is scheduled for liftoff at 7:50 a.m. EDT on Thursday, July 30, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Perseverance will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. Live coverage begins on NASA TV at 7:00 a.m. EDT.  You can watch the launch live on NASA’s YouTube Channel or on NASA TV. Although the weather forecast looks favorable for a Thursday launch, the launch window runs from 30 July to 15 August 2020. If the 30 July launch is successful, Perseverance is scheduled to land at Jezero crater on 18 February 2021. Entry, decent and landing (EDL) will be similar to Curiosity’s harrowing Seven Minutes of Terror, although Perseverance is equipped with HD video cameras to record the landing. The HD video, however, will take weeks to transmit to earth.

The Perseverance rover has improved wheels, carries 23 cameras, two microphones and will seek signs of ancient life and collect rock, soil, and drill core samples for possible return to Earth during a later mission. Perseverance also carries an experimental autonomous helicopter called Ingenuity, which will be deployed to take close up photographs of the surrounding Martian landscape.

“The Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission’s disk-shaped cruise stage sits atop the bell-shaped back shell, which contains the powered descent stage and Perseverance rover. Below is the brass-colored heat shield that is about to be attached to the back shell.”

JAC: Here’s a photo of the rover. What an ingenioous species we are! Pity we keep hating and killing each other. . . .