NASA's Mars Ingenuity helicopter made history today, by completing the first-ever successful powered controlled flight on another planet. The milestone was reported by NASA after reviewing data at the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) outside of Los Angeles. According to the data, the Ingenuity helicopter executed its flight on Mars by ascending to approximately 10ft (or three meters) above the surface of Mars, before landing again on the Red Planet. The Ingenuity helicopter is four pounds with a 1.2 meter wingspan. It's powered by batteries charged by solar panels on its top, which allows for about 90 seconds of flight at full power.
"Wow!"April 19, 2021
The joy of NASA's latest achievement was expressed in a statement by MiMi Aung, Ingenuity Mars Helicopter project manager at JPL:
"We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet. We've been talking for so long about our Wright brothers' moment on Mars. And here it is. This project has had many friends who contributed to its success. And Perseverance rover, the best host little Ingenuity could have.
We know that our time to make a difference at Jezero Crater on Mars is not yet over. Let's enjoy this moment. We must enjoy this moment because over the years there are people who have never let me celebrate fully – every time we hit one of these major milestones: 'not yet, not yet.' Take that moment and then after that let's get back to work."
The reason for celebrating the Ingenuity's flight is that it was done completely autonomously. The helicopter was programmed to complete its functions before leaving Earth, with no remote control piloting involved in the process. It was something of a "nail-biter" as far as NASA missions go; the crew kept the Ingenuity grounded longer than planned and postponed the flight multiple times in order to run diagnostics and check for any potential issues.
The Ingenuity helicopter is part of NASA's current mission on Mars using the Perserverance rover. This milestone expedition has seen NASA searching for signs of habitable conditions on Mars while searching for evidence of past microbial life. So far, it's been a pretty revelatory expedition in several ways.