NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter just took its first flight on Mars. It’s the first powered, controlled flight on another planet, a feat not even attempted during the mid-century heyday of the Moon landings. Ingenuity completed the flight carrying a small piece of one of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s original aircrafts tucked under its blades, in a nod to the legacy that made this morning’s achievement possible.
Ingenuity’s momentous hover over the Red Planet was autonomous; Ingenuity is not powered with any joystick on Earth, but by the computers aboard the craft.
You wouldn’t believe what I just saw.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 19, 2021
The helicopter, which journeyed to Mars strapped to the belly of the Perseverance rover, harbours no scientific instruments. It is an experimental craft designed by NASA, tasked with establishing a precedent for future flight on other planets, with differing atmospheres and gravitational pulls than our own. (On Mars, the atmosphere is 1% as thick as Earth’s, and the pull of gravity there is about one-third what it is on Earth.) Ingenuity just passed that test with flying colours and has at least four more flights in its docket before the $US85 ($110) million machine is retired.
NASA is hosting a press conference later today to share more about today’s flight. Stay tuned for more news on this incredible accomplishment.