On Monday, NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter made aviation history as the first aircraft ever to fly on another planet. Ingenuity’s team confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover.
The first flight, however, was no easy feat. Mars has a significantly lower gravity—one-third of Earth’s—and an extremely thin atmosphere with only 1% the pressure at the surface compared to our planet.
In other words, the basic rules of flight are different, and Ingenuity is testing many components for the first time. The helicopter is also solar-powered, so the mission crew had to time the launch for sun exposure.
“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,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen.
Filming and supporting Ingenuity during its first flight was the Perseverance Rover—which helped document flight operations with its cameras. The pictures from the rover’s cameras will provide additional data on the helicopter’s flight.
The Ingenuity copter was previous attached to the belly of the Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars on 18 February. Its team will receive and analyse data and imagery from the flight and formulate a plan for the second flight—scheduled for no earlier than 22 April.
“We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next. History shows they got back to work – to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft – and so will we,” said MiMi Aung, project manager of the Ingenuity.