NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter created history by taking the first ever powered flight on a different planet. The 4-pound micro copter hovered 10 feet above the Martian surface for the greater part of a minute and debut its test flight. With this historic movement, the possibilities of remote tours of different planets with the help of rovers and helicopters opens up.
A dream takes flight: The Ingenuity #MarsHelicopter has flown in the thin atmosphere of the Red Planet.
More test flights are planned for the coming days. In the future, flying robotic scouts may join new rovers and even astronauts in their explorations. https://t.co/b4vJBvVP06 pic.twitter.com/5f3wCpLCQW
— NASA Mars (@NASAMars) April 19, 2021
The tiny Ingenuity helicopter that was attached to the belly of Perseverance rover, lifted itself at 3.30 AM ET (1.00 PM IST). The two blades of the chocolate box sized helicopter cut through the ultra-thin Martian atmosphere at the speed of 2,500 RPM. For context, to achieve flight on Earth atmosphere, the helicopter would have only needed to move at 500 RPM. It should be noted that the rotorcraft has been on the Martian surface since February 18th.
Ingenuity Project Manager MiMi Aung was jubilant as he took control over the mission control and confirmed the helicopter’s first successful flight. “Confirmed that Ingenuity has performed its first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet.” Meanwhile, Michael Starch, the downlink engineer of the mission was heard saying, “We ca now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet.”
"Ingenuity has performed its first flight — the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet!"
— NASA (@NASA) April 19, 2021
NASA’s mission control received the first couple of monochrome images from the Ingenuity’s camera that’s on its belly. In the picture the helicopter’s shadow can be seen around 10 feet of the Martian surface. After the confirmation images, Perseverance rover also shared some images from Mars which showed the copter flying over the Martian surface.
You wouldn’t believe what I just saw.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 19, 2021
What is Ingenuity’s main mission?
According to NASA, the main mission of Ingenuity is to demonstrate flight. The Ingenuity doesn’t have any other exploration missions or scientific experiments like Perseverance.
Were the test flights successful? What happens next after the successful flight?
The first test flights were also successful with Ingenuity hovering 10 feet above the Martian surface for almost 30 seconds and the landing successfully. Meanwhile the camera clicked a few images and the navigation system on the helicopter keeping it steady.
Now there are 4 more flights that remain to be attempted. While the first three of them are designed to test helicopter’s basic functionality in the Martian atmosphere under different conditions, third flight will see the helicopter flying a distance of 160 feet and then returning back to the descending spot.
Why was the first Ingenuity flight delayed?
The first Ingenuity flight was scheduled on April 11. But 2 days before that there was a problem during one of the system tests. The issue was that one of the rotors spun but the helicopter never took off. The telemetry tests also highlighted that some of the system checks took longer than anticipated. In the end, the computer that Ingenuity possesses halted the test and before the helicopter could enter into a “flight mode”.
Where can I learn more about Ingenuity and Perseverance rover?
You can know more about Perseverance in our article where we went into detail about the rover, its components and its mission here:
To read more about the Ingenuity helicopter, head over to our article which went into the detail about Ingenuity’s specifications, its significance and more here: