NASA just launched the first robot helicopter flight on Mars. The flight lasted for nearly 40 seconds and was the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft outside Earth.
The agency hailed the flight of the 1.8-kg solar-powered helicopter, named Ingenuity, as a breakthrough achievement that would pave the way for more aerial exploration on Mars and other parts of the solar system.
The aircraft is a sophisticated one. But from the outside, it resembles a large metallic box with four legs and a twin-rotor parasol.
After the short flight, which went exactly according to plan, the mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California burst into applause.
“We can now say that human beings have flown an aircraft on another planet,” said MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL.
According to data received from the aircraft, it became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT, climbed to a height of 10 feet (3 meters) and hovered steadily in place over the Martian surface for half a minute, NASA said.
NASA hopes to make such flights regularly to advance exploration of the Red planet.
In the nearest future, the agency will push the aircraft to its brink to test its capacities for more prolonged flights and its resilience to local extreme weather conditions.
According to the agency’s statement, the achievement was linked to the Wright Brothers’ first controlled flight of their motor-driven airplane in December 1903.
“This is really a Wright brothers moment,” Steve Jurczyk, acting NASA chief, said.
According to Reuters, despite the flight’s brevity, it marked a historic feat in interplanetary aviation, taking place on an “airfield” 173 million miles from Earth. Bob Balaram, Ingenuity’s chief engineer, stated that the aircraft was doing great after its first flight.
The U.S. space agency also paid a special tribute to the Wrights by attaching a tiny swatch of wing fabric from their original flyer under Ingenuity’s solar panel.