NASA's Mars Helicopter Takes Flight — a First on Another Planet: 'Our Wright Brothers Moment'

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter hovered about 10 feet up for 30 seconds

NASA ingenuity helicopter
Ingenuity. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It took a lot of perseverance and a healthy dose of ingenuity, but a powered, controlled flight on another planet took place on Monday in a first-of-its-kind mission years in the making.

The Ingenuity Mars Helicopter took off from Mars' Jezero Crater and hovered 10 feet above the Red Planet's surface for about 30 seconds, according to NASA.

The historic mission was captured in a black-and-white photo that featured the Ingenuity's shadow lurking above Mars, which was taken using the experimental helicopter's navigation camera and sent back to teams on Earth.

The Perseverance rover, meanwhile, also captured images of the groundbreaking flight from about 211 feet away.

"Perseverance got us to Mars. With Ingenuity, we soar higher," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said on Twitter. "The #MarsHelicopter made history today by being the first craft to achieve controlled, powered flight on a planet beyond Earth."

The 4-lb. rotorcraft's journey had previously been called a "high-risk, high-reward technology demonstration" by NASA, who said the Ingenuity will fly autonomously, with its guidance, navigation and control systems doing the piloting.

"While Ingenuity carries no science instruments, the little helicopter is already making its presence felt across the world, as future leaders follow its progress toward an unprecedented first flight," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, said in a statement.

MiMi Aung, Ingenuity project manager at JPL, said that the team had overcome a "wide array of seemingly insurmountable technical challenges" before Monday's successful flight.

"We got this far with a never-say-die attitude, a lot of friends from many different technical disciplines, and an agency that likes to turn far-out ideas into reality," Aung said in a statement.

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To get things off the ground, Aung's team developed twin counter-rotating rotor blades that spin at 2,400 revolutions per minute, which is five times faster than on Earth, according to the Associated Press.

Because Mars' atmosphere has just 1 percent the thickness of Earth's, the helicopter also had to stay light enough to be able to take flight.

According to the outlet, the Ingenuity carried a bit of wing fabric from a different historic flight: that of the Wright brothers' Wright Flyer, which took off in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903.

"We've been talking so long about our Wright brothers moment, and here it is," Aung said.

The Ingenuity went to Mars alongside the Perseverance rover in February. While there, Perseverance will search for signs of ancient microbial life, collecting and caching broken rock and dust and paving the way for human exploration of Mars.

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