NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter rises from the dusty red surface into the planet’s thin air on Monday, achieving the first powered flight on another planet.
The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter named Ingenuity, in fact, carried a bit of wing fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer, which made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
“Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet,” says the helicopter’s chief pilot back on Earth, Havard Grip, his voice breaking as his teammates erupted in cheers.
The little rotorcraft that could.????????
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 19, 2021
Flight controllers in California confirm Ingenuity’s brief hop after receiving data via the Perseverance rover, which stood watch more than 200 feet (65 meters) away. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February.
The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.
“Each world gets only one first flight,” project manager MiMi Aung noted earlier this month. Speaking on a NASA webcast early Monday, she calls it the “ultimate dream.”