Emilyn Lai/ Staff reporter

On April 19th, 2021, NASA flew a tiny 1.8-kilogram helicopter off the grounds of mars, making it the very first controlled flight to ever take place on Mars. After six years of working on the project, Mimi Aung, the project manager, and her team are incredibly proud of this accomplishment.

The drone, named Ingenuity, was in the air for 39 seconds at the planned height of three meters.

“We’ve been talking for so long about our Wright brother’s moment, and here it is,” said Aung.

 This event is greatly similar to when the Wright brothers made history in 1903 when they flew the first controlled aircraft on earth. In fact, to honor the brothers and signify how far flying technology has come, a piece of wing fabric from the original Wright flyer was placed aboard the Ingenuity before it’s flight.

Functional testing of the drone in March 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility

The project also impressed many in the science community, as it not only was able to successfully fly but it was able to accomplish all of the other goals that NASA had for it as well. The drone was able to both stay warm in the frigid mars temperatures (around -90°C) and charge itself with a solar panel, completely autonomously.

Additionally, the rotor blades on it where able to hit speeds up to 2,400 rpm (rotations per minute) and maintain the speed in order to take off. An impressive feat in itself, as the Mars atmosphere is incredibly thin, less than 1% the density of earth’s.

3D model of Ingenuity

The takeoff was not just a miracle however, but it was six years of effort that was put into the project. The scientists involved had to be able to fit all of the batteries, heaters, computers, and sensors within a tissue box sized vessel.

Ingenuity preparing for it’s first flight, captured by the primary camera on the Perseverance rover

Before launching on Mars in the first place, the helicopter had to get to the red planet first. In order to transport it, Ingenuity travelled inside of the Perseverance rover’s body, which was covered by a protective shield to avoid damage to the drone. When the date of the launch came closer and closer, the Perseverance rover carefully dropped Ingenuity on a flat area and drove away, in order for Ingenuity’s solar panels to begin charging it’s batteries.

Had it not been for the many individuals who put their time into the project people would not have been able to experience this historic event. The little drone was only an experimental project, however the information gathered from the mission will be able to benefit future explorations of Mars and enable other advanced robotic flying vehicles that may be used in other missions.

Up to five more launches are planned until May, with each one becoming more ambitious. This successful first task has been a great start, and humans can only look to the future from here.


NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter makes historic 1st flight on Mars

 NASA Mars Ingenuity Helicopter Press Kit

NASA’s Mars helicopter tech demo

NASA successfully flies the first-ever helicopter on Mars


Ingenuity 3D model

Ingenuity functional testing

Ingenuity captured by the Perseverance rover