NASA had made history once again today. The organization’s Ingenuity helicopter took to the skies of Mars for the first time, marking a new age of planetary exploration. The Ingenuity’s flight is the first powered flight on another planet—an event NASA has described as “a Wright brothers moment” in space, noted CNBC.
You wouldn’t believe what I just saw.
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 19, 2021
Given the distance between Mars and the Earth, and the subsequent 15-minute communications delay, the Ingenuity’s flight was autonomous. The craft took to the Martian skies for about 40 seconds, at a height of about 10 feet. Its blades spun at a whopping 2,500 RPMs–that’s roughly five times faster than the rotations helicopters on Earth demand. The increased rotational speeds are a requirement to create enough lift in the Martian atmosphere, which is much thinner than Earth’s.
The little rotorcraft that could.????????
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 19, 2021
Ingenuity’s main mission on the red planet is now complete. The helicopter made the journey along with NASA’s rover Perseverance, which landed on Mars on February 18. Now that NASA knows it can successfully pilot a helicopter on the planet, future missions may include additional rotary aircraft to explore the Martian landscape in greater detail.
One final cool tidbit about the historic flight: The helicopter carried with it from Earth a small piece of material from the wing of the Wright brothers’ aircraft, Flyer 1—the craft that made the first powered flight on our planet 118 years ago.