NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter: All you need to know about first and second controlled flight on Mars
In a historic first, NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter made a powered, controlled flight on another planet on 19 April 2021. For the first flight, the helicopter climbed to about 10 feet (3 meters) above the ground, hovered in the air for 30 seconds, completed a turn and then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.
It happened. Today our #MarsHelicopter proved that powered, controlled flight from the surface of another planet is possible. It takes a little ingenuity, perseverance, and spirit to make that opportunity a reality: https://t.co/oT3rrBm6wj pic.twitter.com/u63GKshp0G— NASA (@NASA) April 19, 2021
As quoted by NASA, it was the very first powered flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars and the first such flight in any world beyond Earth. The success of the first flight has paved the way for future missions on the red planet.
Ingenuity completed its second Mars flight on 22 April 2021. It lasted for 51.9 seconds and added various new challenges to its first flight such as higher maximum altitude, longer duration, and sideways movement.
This time, the Ingenuity climbed to 16 feet (5 meters), hovered briefly, performed a slight (5-degree) tilt, and sideways movement for 7 feet (2 meters).
Go big or go home! The #MarsHelicopter successfully completed its 2nd flight, capturing this image with its black-and-white navigation camera. It also reached new milestones of a higher altitude, a longer hover and lateral flying. pic.twitter.com/F3lwcV9kH2— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 22, 2021
Chief engineer for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at NASA’s JPL, Bob Balaram stated, "We have two flights of Mars under our belts, which means that there is still a lot to learn during this month of Ingenuity."
Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk stated, "Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible. The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky – at least on Mars – may not be the limit."
NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen stated, "Now, 117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world."
"While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked. As a homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration," he added.
It is important to note that the Ingenuity was not controlled by the engineers on Earth but was piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team.
Mars has one-third of Earth's gravity, and an extremely thin atmosphere with only 1% the pressure at the surface compared to our planet. This indicates that the planet has fewer air molecules with which Ingenuity’s two 4-foot-wide (1.2-meter-wide) rotor blades can interact to achieve flight.
During this historic flight, NASA's Perseverance rover acted as a communications relay between the helicopter and Earth and also chronicled the flight operations with its cameras. The images from Mastcam-Z and Navcam imagers will provide additional data on the helicopter’s flight.
Animation on Google's Homepage
To celebrate this achievement, Google created an exciting animation on its homepage. To see this, all you need to do is type 'Ingenuity NASA' in Google search. On the right side, an animated version of the aircraft will appear. Click on it and enjoy as ingenuity takes a flight around your screen over an animated red surface.
It is a solar-powered helicopter weighing 4-pound (1.8 kg) and is 19.3-inch-tall (49-centimetre-tall). Ingenuity Mars Helicopter contains no science instruments inside its tissue-box-size fuselage. The rotorcraft is intended to demonstrate whether future exploration of the Red Planet could include an aerial perspective. It contains unique components, and off the shelf commercial parts that were tested in deep space for the first time with this mission.
With one successful flight under its belt, NASA's team is all set to attempt a series of increasingly difficult fights in the ensuing weeks.