NASA First: Flies ‘Ingenuity’ Small Helicopter on Mars

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The historic first powered flight of a human-made craft on another world occurred as NASA piloted its small “Ingenuity” helicopter on Mars, successfully making an aerial exploration of the red planet on Monday.

NASA historic first: Ingenuity helicopter flies over Mars

Launching at 12:31 AM EDT, NASA’s 4-pound “Ingenuity” helicopter made history as it lifted off on the red planet becoming the first powered flight by a human-made craft on a world beyond earth, Space.com reported. In the first test of the solar-powered chopper, it rose to its maximum of 10 feet above the dirt of the red planet and made a landing after approximately forty seconds in the air. From there, the craft transmitted data to NASA’s “Perseverance Rover” which then transferred the data to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California.

“Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet!” said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot, confirming the telemetry.

“Wright brothers moment”

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung. “We’ve been talking for so long about our ‘Wright Brothers moment’ on Mars, and here it is.”

Wilbur and Orville Wright invented, built, and flew the first powered, controlled aircraft flight on Earth on December 17, 1903, south of Kitty Hawk North Carolina.

About the helicopter

The ingenuity helicopter stands 19-inches tall and weighs roughly 4 pounds. It has a pair of twin, 4-foot-long carbon-fiber rotors. Its mission is not that of gathering data, as it carries no scientific instruments. However, it is equipped with a 13-mega pixel color imager and a black-and-white navigation camera. Its main mission is simply to prove that remote-controlled flight operation is possible. Ingenuity is also capable of a significant amount of autonomy in flight. The helicopter gathers its bearings during a flight in real-time by doing an analysis of the photos that are snapped by its navigational camera.

Challenges in the pioneering Martian flight

The Martian atmosphere is only 1 percent dense as that of Earth at sea level, the BBC reported. Therefore, there is less air for helicopter blades to push against. Mars has a lower gravitational pull, which is only 38 percent as strong as Earth’s.

Monday’s test of the Ingenuity helicopter was the first of more scheduled flights to occur on the red planet in the days ahead.

Up to four more flights are scheduled for Ingenuity during its month-long window. The next flights will take the small chopper higher and farther, soaring to 16.5 feet off the ground and traveling a maximum of 165 feet.