On Monday, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter made history as it has successfully powered and controlled a flight on another planet. The ingenuity team confirmed its successful flight after confirming its data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT.
“Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. Jurczyk also said, “The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky — at least on Mars — may not be the limit.”
Altimeter data indicates Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight. Additional details on the test are expected in upcoming downlinks. It was controlled autonomously by on-board guidance, navigation and control systems running algorithms that were developed by the JPL team.
“Now, 117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world,” NASA Associate Administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen said. “While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked. 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.”
The Red Planet has a significantly lower gravity — one-third that of Earth’s — and an extremely thin atmosphere with only one per cent the pressure at the surface compared to our planet. This means there are relatively few air molecules with which Ingenuity’s two four-foot-wide rotor blades can interact to achieve flight. The helicopter contains unique components, as well as off-the-shelf-commercial parts – many from the smartphone industry – that were tested in deep space for the first time with this mission.