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  • Giorgos Pismisis

The Historic Flight on Mars From NASA's “Ingenuity” Helicopter

The rotorcraft not only survived, but also completed its historic first flight through Mars’ atmosphere. It also proved that powered, controlled flight from the surface of another planet is possible.

NASA controllers conducted a flight test of its “Ingenuity” Mars helicopter. (Photo: NASA)

The rotorcraft is the first to “conquer” the skies of another planet. NASA’s Perseverance rover, which dutifully stowed the helicopter in its underbelly during the seven-month journey to Mars, stuck an almost flawless landing on the terrestrial planet on February 18th. On April 6th, the rover lowered the 4-pound helicopter to the Martian surface and on April 9th, it spun its rotors for the first time. On Monday, it finally took off. NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has safely touched down on the Martian surface after successfully conducting its first flight. The rotorcraft is the first to fly in the skies of another planet.

Early Monday morning, a room full of the helicopter’s operators waited for the first telemetry data and pictures from the test flight as it arrived from the Red Planet. Just before 7 a.m. EDT, the data finally arrived. "Elevation data confirm that Ingenuity made the first motor flight on another planet," said an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory amid applause and cheers in the control room. The news was released publicly by NASA a few minutes later.

A short video of the flight, taken by the Perseverance rover, with which Ingenuity reached the Red Planet before being detached from it, was released after the announcement. The video shows the helicopter rising three meters on the ground and then landing on the surface of Mars. The helicopter also sent a black and white photo, which shows its shadow on the red planet. According to Mimi Aung, head of the helicopter program, "We can now say that humans flew to another planet". (Here is a link to the official video of the helicopter's mission: )

The flight was originally scheduled for April 11th but was delayed due to a technical problem that occurred during the testing of its propellers. The project was a real challenge, because the atmosphere on Mars has a density of only 1% of this Earth's atmosphere and the propellers lift the weight of the helicopter by pressing the air as they rotate. Finally, NASA also noted that more photos will be announced soon. (By following the link below, you can see some of the photos already released by NASA of its historic flight on Mars.)

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