NASA on Monday successfully launched a test flight of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which became the first aircraft in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet.
NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover confirmed the flight’s success to the team behind the project at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. The Ingenuity team received the data at 6:46 a.m. EDT.
Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk praised the project as a space achievement once thought to be impossible. “We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky — at least on Mars — may not be the limit.”
NASA said that the solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT, as that was determined to be the optimal time for flight conditions. Ingenuity climbed to a maximum altitude of 10 feet and hovered for approximately 30 seconds before descending.
Most impressively, the flight demonstration was autonomous and the 4-pound helicopter was piloted using onboard systems and algorithms developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Mars airfield where the flight took place was named Wright Brothers Field.
“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.”
The flight marked a huge step towards better understanding the Red Planet and its conditions. The planet has only one-third the gravity of Earth and an extremely thin atmosphere, making flying an aircraft an especially challenging task. The helicopter was created using unique components and commercial parts that were tested in deep space for the first time.
The Perseverance Rover successfully touched down on Mars in February with the Ingenuity helicopter attached. A second experimental test flight of the helicopter is scheduled to take place no earlier than April 22.
On Friday, NASA selected SpaceX to take astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 as part of its Artemis program.