First Helicopter Flight on Mars a Success!

This is a time-lapse of Ingenuity's first flight on Mars earlier this morning. Click here for a hi-resolution video of the flight — very cool! NASA / JPL-Caltech

Just in case you haven't heard, NASA's Ingenuity helicopter had its Wright Brothers moment on Mars earlier today. At 2:34 a.m. CDT (12:33 p.m. local time on Mars) Monday morning, April 19th, the nineteen-inch-tall mini-copter became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet. Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) and hovered for 30 seconds before descending, for a total flight time of 39.1 seconds. 

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this photo of its shadow as it hovered over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during its inaugural flight. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight. The original image was in black-and-white; I added color. NASA / JPL-Caltech

While it's just a baby step, the fact that it worked is cause to celebrate human ingenuity. No wonder NASA picked that name for its Martian flying machine. During the Wright brothers first powered flight in December 1903, the Wright Flyer stayed aloft for 12 seconds. While that attempt used gasoline, solar power propelled Ingenuity. 

Orville Wright, 32 at the time, pilots the Wright Flyer during the first powered, controlled, sustained aircraft flight in history on Dec. 13, 1903. His brother, Wilbur, 36, runs alongside to help balance the machine. Public domain

NASA got the good news via the Perseverance rover at 5:46 a.m. CDT. Perseverance also served as the autonomous pilot, using its onboard guidance and navigation systems to send commands to the helicopter. With Earth 179 million miles (288 million km) away, it's not possible to fly Ingenuity with a joystick in real time. The light-travel time for a signal sent to Mars is currently 16 minutes. For the same reason the flight was unobservable in real time here on Earth. 

The Mars helicopter is back on the ground in this photo taken a little less than an hour after its first flight. NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASU

"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," said acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk. 

As an homage to Wilbur and Orville Wright and their first powered flight, the airfield where Ingenuity took off from will now be known as Wright Brothers Field. Four more flights are planned in the coming days.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured this photo of its shadow as it hovered over the Martian surface on April 19, 2021, during its inaugural flight. It used its navigation camera, which autonomously tracks the ground during flight. The original image was in black-and-white; I added color. NASA / JPL-Caltech

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