Inclement weather warnings are a begrudgingly accepted fact of life, especially when unexpected. Many people can relate to attempting some sort of travel and hearing with a heavy heart the "inclement weather" warning. Now, in a world- and off-word-first, NASA has had to issue a flight delay notice due to bad weather on another planet.
NASA has to keep a close eye on the weather, not just for launching missions, but to protect its rovers and landers currently exploring Mars. Ingenuity has repeatedly demonstrated it's the little helicopter that could, going well beyond its 30-day mission, so NASA will certainly not risk losing this valuable asset. The agency announced that Ingenuity's 19th flight, due to take place January 5, was postponed due to a regional dust storm on Mars, and will now take place at a later date.
Dust storms are a common seasonal occurrence on Mars during the autumn and winter months, but this one was surprising as the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing the end of summer. So a bit earlier than usual.
Observations from space by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed a regional dust storm spreading from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern extending to Jezero crater, where the rover Perseverence and Ingenuity are conducting their scientific exploration. Due to uncertainties surrounding this possible weather change, the team decided to postpone the flight.
And it was a good call. Further orbital observations and data collected from the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) on Perseverance have shown that the dust storm led to a drop in air density in the area. This would have been below the safety threshold for the flight. It also led to an 18 percent drop in sunlight taken in by the solar array on the vehicle. We know that dust storms on Mars can kill solar-powered missions (RIP Opportunity, always in our hearts) so no one was taking any chances.
Flight 19 is now scheduled no earlier than Sunday, January 23, and we're sure Ingenuity will knock it out of the park.