NASA’S MARS HELICOPTER TAKES FLIGHT, 1ST ON ANOTHER PLANET
NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet, Marcia Dunn reported for the Associated Press (AP).
The triumph was hailed as a Wright brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. It was a brief hop — just 39 seconds and 10 feet (3 meters) — but accomplished all the major milestones.
“Goosebumps. It looks just the way we had tested,” project manager MiMi Aung said as she watched the flight video during a later briefing. “Absolutely beautiful flight. I don’t think I can ever stop watching it over and over again.”
Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California declared success after receiving the data and images via the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly when it touched down in an ancient river delta in February.
The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward. Scientists cheered the news from around the world, even from space. The White House offered its congratulations via posts on different social media channels by none other than President Joe Biden, himself.
“A whole new way to explore the alien terrain in our solar system is now at our disposal,” Nottingham Trent University astronomer Daniel Brown said from England.
This first test flight — with more to come by Ingenuity, the next as soon as Thursday — holds great promise, Brown noted.
Future helicopters could serve as scouts for rovers, and eventually astronauts, in difficult, dangerous places.