NASA Creates History As It Successfully Flies Its Ingenuity Helicopter On Mars

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Apr 19, 2021 08:15 PM +05:30 IST
NASA Creates History As It Successfully Flies Its Ingenuity Helicopter On MarsIngenuity

NASA has made history as the American aerospace agency announced that it successfully flew its four-pound ‘Ingenuity’ helicopter from the surface of Mars on 19 April.

The team behind the development of the spacecraft has confirmed the news of the first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet on early Monday morning.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate NASA administrator for science said in a tweet: “This gives us amazing hope for all of humanity. I couldn’t be more proud.”

He also said that said NASA has named Ingenuity’s flight zone “Wright Brothers Field”, as a homage to the aviation pioneers’ revolutionary flight in 1903.

A Historic Day

As reported by The Verge, the Ingenuity helicopter lifted itself 10 feet off the Martian surface while spinning its twin rotor blades at around 3.30 am ET.

After the liftoff, the spacecraft hovered for a while, then turned and landed softly. NASA said that the autonomous flight lasted for around 30 seconds.

At NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the engineers broke out in cheers when confirmation of the flight arrived in a data burst that took around three hours to reach Earth.

The room temperature inside the flight operations centre increased after the NASA engineers saw an image shot from the Ingenuity helicopter that captured its shadow on the ground, followed by a video of the spacecraft’s successful flight, captured by the Mars rover.

MiMi Aung, project manager for Ingenuity at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena told the occupants of the flight control room: “We can now say we’ve flown a rotorcraft on another planet. We together flew on Mars. We together have our Wright brothers moment.”

As per the scientists, this new milestone could eventually help NASA more quickly roam around the red planet to look for signs of ancient life.

To make a brief flight, the spacecraft was made extremely light and given the power to turn its blades extremely fast - at around 2,500 revolutions per minute, so that the vehicle can be pulled into the ultra-thin air on Mars.

The successful flight has given a boost to NASA’s latest Mars mission— Perseverance rover, which is set to explore a Martian crater that once held water and could also find out clues to the history of the red planet.

The Ingenuity helicopter, with four spindly legs, a solar panel and costing around $80 million, arrived on Mars on 18 February while being attached to the Perseverance rover.

If everything goes according to the plan, Ingenuity could make at least four flights in the coming weeks.

The second flight would be slightly higher than the first attempt and could go up to 16 feet. It could fly horizontally for a little bit before landing on the Martian surface.

The first flight was originally scheduled to happen last week. But it was postponed after a problem was detected during a test of the helicopter’s rotors.

The news about the successful flight on Mars has raised hope to explore more distant planets with such helicopters before astronauts visit the planet.

However, NASA has already approved another helicopter mission Dragonfly—to Saturn’s moon, Titan. As per the agency, it would arrive at Titan in the mid-2030s.

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