NASA's Mars Helicopter makes historic first flight
NASA's Mars Helicopter makes historic first flight
Ingenuity performs first flight on Mars
19 April, 2021, 23:38
A small robotic helicopter named Ingenuity on Monday scripted history when it lifted off the surface of Mars and hovered in the wispy air of the red planet.
NASA pulled off a Wright Brothers moment on Mars early today by successfully flying the tiny Ingenuity helicopter for approximately 40 seconds.
Parked about 64.3 m (211 feet) away during Ingenuity's historic first flight, the Perseverance rover not only acted as a communications relay between the helicopter and Earth, but also chronicled the flight operations with its cameras.
A black-and-white photo taken by a downward-pointing onboard camera while the helicopter was aloft showed the distinct shadow cast by Ingenuity in the Martian sunlight onto the ground just below it. You're watching video of the #MarsHelicopter's first flight - a true "Wright brothers" moment.
As mentioned, this is the first ever flight of a powered vehicle on Mars, so while there's been lots of modelling and simulation work predicting how it would go, no one knew for sure what would happen before this live test. Ingenuity has to rotate its rotor at a super-fast 2,500 RPM, for instance, compared to around 400 to 500 RPM for a helicopter on Earth, because of how thin the atmosphere is on Mars, which produced significant technical challenges.
Shortly afterwards, NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted that "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".
At the surface of Mars, the atmosphere is just 1/100th as dense as Earth's. Success hinges on Ingenuity executing the pre-programmed flight instructions using an autonomous pilot and navigation system.
"We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet", MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL, said in the control room moments after engineers confirmed the successful flight.
Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover's belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February. Prospects for future flights rest largely on a safe, four-point touchdown the first time.
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NASA Ingenuity helicopter makes historic flight on Mars
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