Summary: NASA scored a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment on Monday as it sent its miniature robot helicopter Ingenuity buzzing above the surface of Mars for nearly 40 seconds, marking the first powered controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet
Original author and publication date: Steve Gorman – April 19, 2021
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: A small flight for a tiny helicopter, an immense distance for humanity
From the article:
Officials at the U.S. space agency hailed the brief flight of the 4-pound (1.8-kg) rotorcraft as an achievement that would help pave the way for a new mode of aerial exploration on Mars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus and Saturn’s moon Titan.
The debut flight of Ingenuity, resembling a large metallic tissue box with four legs and a twin-rotor parasol, was documented in full-color video by cameras aboard the science rover vehicle Perseverance, which carried the helicopter to the Red Planet two months ago.
Mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles burst into applause and cheers as data beamed back from Mars confirmed the solar-powered helicopter had performed its maiden 39-second flight three hours earlier, precisely as planned.
“We can now say that human beings have flown an aircraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL, during a NASA livestream of the flight confirmation.
Altimeter readings from the rotorcraft showed it became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT (0734 GMT), climbed as programmed to a height of 10 feet (3 meters), then hovered steadily in place over the Martian surface for half a minute while pivoting 96 degrees before making a firm but safe touchdown, NASA said.
FROM KITTY HAWK TO MARS
“That’s what we told Ingenuity to do, and it did exactly that,” Havard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot at JPL, told a post-flight briefing. He called the flight “flawless.”
NASA likened the achievement to the Wright Brothers’ first controlled flight of their motor-driven airplane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December 1903 – a takeoff and landing that covered just 120 feet (37 meters) in 12 seconds.
“This is really a Wright brothers moment,” acting NASA chief Steve Jurczyk said at the briefing.