NASA helicopter scripts history, takes first flight on Mars

Eloise Marshall
April 19, 2021

NASA made history yet again on Monday, April 19, at 03:30 EDT (07:30 UTC), by conducting the first controlled flight of an aircraft on Mars, the iconic space organization confirmed via a live video link to mission control on NASA TV. Ingenuity actually has a much more powerful processor on board than even the Perseverance rover itself, and that's because it intends to gather massive amounts of data about what happens during its flight test so that it can transmit that to the rover, which then leapfrogs the information back to Earth.

The helicopter, called Ingenuity, traveled almost 300 million miles to the red planet tucked inside the belly of the Perseverance rover.

NASA's experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity hovers above the surface of Mars. The Mars Helicopter Ingenuity successfully took to the Red Planet skies for a brief jaunt, which will hopefully be the first of several.

Altimeter data was the first indicator of mission success. Video was then downloaded and played at mission control, showing the flight from the perspective of the Mars Perseverance rover.

The flight was challenging because of conditions vastly different from Earth's - an atmosphere that has less than one percent the density of our own, and gravitational pull of only a third. It is a historic moment as this is a first powered flight on the Martian surface.

"As an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration".

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The spin test required the addition of a few commands to the flight operations sequence, and the team managed to test it out both here on Earth, and over on Mars.

This is a breaking story. Prospects for future flights rest largely on a safe, four-point touchdown the first time.

An initial analysis of the data by the project team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory indicates the flight went as expected, with Ingenuity taking off, flying to an altitude of about three meters and hovering before landing 39.1 seconds later.

Up to five increasingly ambitious flights are planned, and they could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as lookouts for human crews.

Typing "Ingenuity NASA" into Google's search bar returns the usual info card containing all sorts of information about the Mars helicopter.

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