Yuki Ikari/Staff reporter
April 19, 3:34 am EDT, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter became the first aircraft to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet.
The first test flight hovered at around 10 feet off the ground. The helicopter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.
The Ingenuity had to be strong enough to withstand the wind. It also has a solar panel for recharging the batteries.
NASA picked a flat, mostly rock-free patch for the helicopter’s airfield. It first became airborne at 3:34 am. It was in the air for 39 seconds, three times longer than the first successful flight of the Wright Flyer, and accomplished all the major milestones. “While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 178 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked,” NASA’s science missions chief Thomas Zurbuchen announced.
NASA said, following flight tests will be scheduled and will be documented via HD cameras on the Perseverance rover. “The Perseverance rover will provide support during flight operations, taking images, collecting environmental data, and hosting the base station that enables that helicopter to communicate with mission controllers on Earth.”
Future helicopters could serve as “otherworldly scouts for rovers” and eventually astronauts in difficult and dangerous places.
The first flight was full of unknowns. Mars has significantly lower gravity and an extremely thin atmosphere meaning there are very few air molecules with which the helicopter’s rotor blades can interact to achieve height.
Ingenuity’s team has until the beginning of May to complete the test flights so that the rover can get on with its primary mission: collecting rock samples that could hold evidence of past life, for return to Earth ten years from now.