NASA helicopter makes history with successful flight on Mars

Ingenuity performs first flight on Mars

It is a historic moment as this is a first powered flight on the Martian surface.

This is the first ever powered, controlled flight on another world.

"We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet", said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity's lead engineer, speaking to her colleagues gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California to execute and monitor the flight. You're watching video of the #MarsHelicopter's first flight - a true "Wright brothers" moment.

Nasa itself is likening the experiment to the Wright Brothers' feat 117 years ago, paying tribute to that modest but monumental first flight by having affixed a tiny swath of wing fabric from the original Wright flyer under Ingenuity's solar panel.

Although Ingenuity carries no survey instruments, its flights are meant to prove the concept of rotary flight in Mars' thin atmosphere, which has a density altitude of about 100,000 feet.

The first visual indication that the Ingenuity helicopter's test flight was a success came in the form of an altimeter data graph (pictured below), the plateau on the graph indicating the moments in which the aircraft was hovering above the red planet.

A snippet of color video footage captured by a separate camera mounted on NASA's Mars rover Perseverance, parked about 200 feet away, showed the helicopter in flight against the orange-colored landscape surrounding it.

Ingenuity’s shadow as seen by a camera on the helicopter during the flight – via NASA
Ingenuity’s shadow as seen by a camera on the helicopter during the flight – via NASA

NASA's livestream, below, will begin at 6:15 a.m. ET on Monday, showing the agency's Space Flight Operations Facility as it receives data and possibly imagery from Ingenuity's flight.

If all goes to plan, the 1.8 kilogramme whirligig will slowly ascend straight up to an altitude of three metres above the Martian surface, hover in place for 30 seconds, then rotate before descending to a gentle landing on all four legs.

The helicopter, called Ingenuity, traveled almost 300 million miles to the red planet tucked inside the belly of the Perseverance rover. However, that technology will be used for a much larger vehicle, Dragonfly, to allow it to fly in the dense atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

"Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible", said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk in a press statement.

April has certainly become the month of Ingenuity on Mars.

The planned flight was delayed for a week by a technical glitch during a test spin of the aircraft's rotors on April 9.

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