After overcoming an, NASA’s $80 million Ingenuity helicopter spun up its carbon-composite rotors and lifted off the dusty surface of Mars early Monday to become the first aircraft to fly on another planet, a “Wright brothers moment” that could pave the way to future interplanetary aircraft.
Tipping the scales at just 4 pounds — 1.5 pounds in the lower gravity of Mars — Ingenuity’s counter-rotating 4-foot-long rotors, spinning at more than 2,500 rpm, were commanded to change their pitch, “biting” deeper into the thin atmosphere for a liftoff from the floor ofaround 3:30 a.m. EDT.
With thelooking on from a safe distance, Ingenuity climbed 10 feet straight up, hovered, turned in place and then landed to complete a test flight spanning just 40 seconds or so.
That was more than enough to make
“We can now say human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet!” an elated MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told her socially distanced team. “We’ve been talking so long about our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is.
“We don’t know from history what Orville and Wilbur did after their first successful flight. I imagine the two brothers hugged each other. Well, I’m hugging you virtually right now. … We together flew at Mars, and we together have our Wright brothers moment.”
Data confirming the historic flight reached Earth three hours after the flight, relayed through NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Once on its way, the data took nearly 16 minutes to cross the 178-million-mile gulf between Mars and Earth.
The telemetry began showing up on computer screens at JPL just after 6:30 a.m. EDT. First, the team confirmed the data had made it back successfully. Then, peering intently at his display, JPL’s “pilot,” Håvard Grip, announced the results, confirming Ingenuity “performed spin up, take off, climb, hover, descent, landing, touchdown and spin down.”
“Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet!” he said as engineers burst into cheers and applause.
Moments later, initial images were displayed, including a short video shot by Perseverance showing the small helicopter lifting off, hovering and setting down. A sharp black-and-white still image, taken by a camera aboard Ingenuity, showed the helicopter’s shadow on the surface…