NASA has made history after successfully conducting the first-ever controlled flight on another planet.
The space agency’s Ingenuity helicopter briefly flew over Mars this morning, in what NASA previously described as a “Wright Brothers” moment.
The 1.8 kg chopper ascended three meters above the red planet, hovered for around 30 seconds, made a turn, and then touched back down on the Martian surface.
“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The autonomous drone arrived on Mars inside NASA’s Perseverance rover on February 18. It was slated to make its first experimental flight on April 11, but the launch was twice postponed due to technical issues.
At around 07:00 AM EST, NASA confirmed that the maiden voyage had been successful. Ingenuity will now attempt a series of more challenging flights.
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 19, 2021
While pilots planned the chopper’s route, Ingenuity had to fly autonomously because of communication delays. A combination of sensors and computer vision navigated the flight path.
Cameras on the helicopter will capture a new perspective of conditions on Mars. But Ingenuity’s primary mission is testing the potential of flying on other worlds.
NASA will use insights from the flights to develop future helicopters, which could one day help astronauts explore the red planet.