Nasa successfully flies small helicopter on Mars

Grant Boone
April 19, 2021

NASA's experimental Mars helicopter rose from the planet's dusty red surface into the thin air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA, had earlier said: "Ingenuity is a technology demonstration that aims to be the first powered flight on another world and, if successful, could further expand our horizons and broaden the scope of what is possible with Mars exploration".

NASA's Ingenuity space helicopter has lifted off from the Martian surface, flown, and landed safely, pioneering a technology that could revolutionize the way we explore other planets.

The Perseverance rover captured a "selfie" with Ingenuity before driving to an overlook to watch the helicopter fly.

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.

Aung and her team had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the pre-programmed flight had succeeded 287 million kilometres away. But during a test of the helicopter's rotors there was a problem that prevented it from completing the test. Engineers at JPL were able to diagnose the problem and were confident in the fix.

Applause, cheers and laughter erupted in the operations center when success was finally declared.

Ingenuity will take photos and hopefully some videos too as it has two cameras on board. First, the helicopter dropped to the ground from the belly of Perseverence where it was stored for their interplanetary journey, and it has undergone several tests in preparation for today's first flight.

Ingenuity NASA Makes History Again With First Controlled Flight on Mars

To accomplish all that, the helicopter's twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute - five times faster than on Earth.

An initial analysis of the data by the project team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory indicates the flight went as expected, with Ingenuity taking off, flying to an altitude of about three meters and hovering before landing 39.1 seconds later.

The small, lightweight aircraft already passed an early crucial test by demonstrating it could withstand punishing cold, with nighttime temperatures dropping as low as 130 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius), using solar power alone to recharge and keep internal components properly heated. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fibre, foam-filled rotors are the biggest pieces: each pair stretches 1.2 metres tip to tip.

NASA chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity's airfield, measuring 33 feet by 33 feet (10 meters by 10 meters).

The helicopter's mission will end at the end of April. "Get to the chopper!" he shouted, re-enacting a line from his 1987 sci-fi film "Predator".

Engineers say the helicopter is in great shape and is ready for the test flight. If successful, the demo could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as scouts for astronauts.

Getting the helicopter into space was easy. The mission is meant to search for evidence of ancient microbial life, analyse Martian rocks, and research the landscape, providing important information for future launches bound for Mars. "So let's all get the popcorn", said Elsa Jensen, who oversees the cameras on the rover.

Coronavirus has already killed more than 3 million people worldwide
Dr Tedros added that globally, the number of new cases per week has almost doubled over the past two months. As of Tuesday, about 5,800 breakthrough cases have been reported to the CDC.

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