Story at a glance

  • Video of the historic flight shows the 4-pound helicopter gear up for its flight, take off and hover at a height of about 10 feet for about 30 seconds before touching back softly on the martian surface.
  • The success opens the door to another dimension of planetary exploration, using powered flight to study the mysteries of Mars and other planets.
  • “We have this evolution of exploring planets in the solar system. First we do a fly-by, then we’ll do an orbiter mission, then we’ll do a lander mission, then we’ll land a rover. And now we’ve added another evolutional capability there: flight on another planet,” NASA officials said.

NASA made history earlier this week when its Ingenuity helicopter spun its rotors, ascended into the air and hovered over the surface of Mars for several moments, marking the first ever powered, controlled flight on another planet. 


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Video of the historic flight captured by the Perseverance rover shows the 4-pound helicopter gear up for its flight, take off, and hover at a height of about 10 feet for about 30 seconds before touching back softly on the martian surface Monday.

 

An enhanced video released by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Tuesday shows dust plumes kicked up by the chopper upon takeoff and landing, allowing the space agency to better understand how the wind on Mars travels through its atmosphere. 

The flight was impressive as there is almost no air on Mars to push against to get an aircraft off the ground. Engineers used ultralight materials and 4-foot propellers that spin faster than those needed on Earth to get Ingenuity off the ground. 

The success also opens the door to another dimension of planetary exploration, using powered flight to study the mysteries of Mars and other planets. 

“This really is a Wright brother’s moment,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator, said following the successful flight. 

“It’s a start of a whole new kind of planetary exploration and will build on Ingenuity’s success to see how we can deploy this capability on future Mars missions,” he added. 

“We have this evolution of exploring planets in the solar system. First, we do a fly by. Then we’ll do an orbiter mission and then we’ll do a lander mission, and we’ll land a Rover. And now we’ve added another evolutional capability there: flight on another planet.”

The Ingenuity team hopes to fly the chopper several more times on the red planet. 

Ingenuity chief engineer Bob Balaram said Monday early work has begun on a similar helicopter that could weigh somewhere between 55 to 66 pounds. 

The helicopter hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover, which is on a two-year mission to roam the planet’s surface in search for signs of ancient life. The robotic explorer is equipped with a drill, a robotic arm and several other sophisticated scientific tools that will enable it to collect rock and dirt samples that will be picked up by a future mission to Mars and brought back to Earth. 


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Published on Apr 21, 2021