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Watch NASA's Mars helicopter unfold like a butterfly (video)

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity is preparing for a historic take-off as NASA attempts the first powered, guided flight on another world.

That flight could occur as soon as April 8. But before then, the little chopper had to unpack itself from the belly of its much larger companion, the Perseverance rover. Because Ingenuity made the long trek to Mars folded up, the process took a week, but the helicopter is finally unfurled, with its four landing legs suspended just above the surface of the Red Planet.

Next, the Perseverance rover will set the helicopter down in what will be the center of Ingenuity's airfield, a 33-foot (10 meters) square section of Mars hand-selected by mission scientists to be as safe as possible for the little aircraft.

Related: NASA's Mars helicopter is slowly unfolding beneath the Perseverance rover

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity with all four legs unfolded, as seen by the Perseverance rover on March 30, 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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Then, Perseverance will drive away and give Ingenuity time to charge up its solar batteries. Mission personnel will run a series of tests on the helicopter to ensure its ready to attempt flight.

Ingenuity's first flight is planned to take the helicopter just 10 feet (3 m) above the Red Planet's surface and see the chopper hover for no more than 30 seconds before touching down on the now-unfolded legs.

If all goes well, the team behind Ingenuity will have a full Earth month to fly the little helicopter, which Perseverance will watch from a safe distance. Then, the mission must pivot to the big rover's busy science schedule.

Perseverance is designed to look for traces of life on Mars and to cache rock samples for a future mission to carry to Earth.

Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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Meghan Bartels

Meghan is a senior writer at Space.com and has more than five years' experience as a science journalist based in New York City. She joined Space.com in July 2018, with previous writing published in outlets including Newsweek and Audubon. Meghan earned an MA in science journalism from New York University and a BA in classics from Georgetown University, and in her free time she enjoys reading and visiting museums. Follow her on Twitter at @meghanbartels.