NASA on Monday successfully conducted the first controlled flight on another planet — its Mars helicopter Ingenuity flew a short flight in what the agency described as “a Wright Brothers moment” in space.
“Ingenuity is reporting having performed spin up, takeoff, climb, hover, descent, landing and spin down,” NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory flight control said on a webcast.
NASA was planning to fly the 4-pound craft for as long as 30 seconds to about 10 feet above the surface. The helicopter's rotors spun to more than 2,500 revolutions per minute, far faster than a helicopter on Earth due to the thin atmosphere of the Martian environment.
The flight was autonomous, given the 15-minute delay in communication's between NASA's location in California and the surface of the red planet.
The helicopter carried a tiny piece of fabric from the wing of Flyer 1, the Wright brothers' aircraft that in 1903 made the first powered flights on Earth.
“Like the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, we know that our time to make a difference at Jezero Crater, Mars is not yet over – this is just the first great flight,” JPL's MiMi Aung, the Ingenuity's project manager, said on the webcast.
The helicopter arrived on Mars with NASA's rover Perseverance, which landed Feb. 18 after a six-month voyage. Perseverance deployed the helicopter from underneath the rover earlier this month, with NASA performing a long list of preflight checks during the past two weeks. Perseverance is expected to return imagery of the flight in the hours ahead, captured using the variety of cameras on the rover.
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