NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter made the very first flight to Mars, 117 years after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight to this planet.
The helicopter rose into the air, hovered briefly, and returned to the Martian surface. One image taken from the craft showed Ingenuity’s shadow on the surface and another take from the Perseverance rover showed Airborne Ingenuity.
“Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity made the first flight of a motorized vehicle on another planet”, said an engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to applause and cries of joy in the control room.
“Ingenuity has performed its first flight – the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet!”
The data reveals: Our #MarsHelicopter has had a successful first flight: 🚁 pic.twitter.com/h5a6aGGgHG
– NASA (@NASA) April 19, 2021
The helicopter arrived on Mars on February 18, attached to the six-wheeled Perseverance rover. ” Unlike a drone, the helicopter maintains stability in the air by making fine adjustments in the pitch of the rotor blades. Designed to fly in the thin Martian atmosphere, the blades are much larger than what would be required for a similarly sized helicopter on Earth. Even so, the blades must turn fairly quickly, 2537 revolutions per minute ”, according to a NASA press release.
Although the atmosphere on Mars is only about 1% as dense as on Earth, the lift requirements are rendered somewhat less by Martian gravity, about a third of Earth.
“Ingenuity is a technological demonstration”says Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters. Although it is equipped with cameras, it was not designed to be part of the rover’s scientific mission to search for signs of ancient life. Instead, it aims to broaden the scope of what is possible for future exploration of Mars.
NASA devoted a month of the rover’s mission to testing the capabilities of the helicopter. Depending on how the first flight goes, engineers could apply to reach ingenuity up to 4 meters in future flights and travel up to 45 meters from its take-off point.