NASA Makes Historic First Powered Flight on Another Planet Beyond Earth

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On Monday, the first-ever powered flight to occur on another planet beyond Earth occurred on Mars as NASA successfully flew its Ingenuity helicopter over the red Martian surface in the first of more flights to come.

NASA makes history with flight of helicopter on Mars

Calling it a “Wright Brothers moment,” NASA has made history by flying the first human-made craft on another planet. NASA flew its “ingenuity” helicopter on Mars and what was the first successful and first-ever powered flight on another world beyond Earth.

NASA JPL tweeted: “The #MarsHelicopter made history today by being the first craft to achieve controlled, powered flight on a planet beyond Earth.”

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung. “We’ve been talking for so long about our ‘Wright Brothers moment’ on Mars, and here it is.”

On December 17, 1903, south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilbur and Orville Wright invented, built, and flew the first powered, controlled aircraft flight on Earth.

About the historic flight

Ingenuity launched its first test flight at 12:31 AM EDT, according to NASA. After liftoff, the solar-powered chopper climbed to a planned height of 10 feet, hovered for roughly 40 seconds in the air, and then made a successful touchdown in the dirt of the red planet, Space.com reported. The craft also successfully communicated with NASA’s “Perseverance Rover” which communicated to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California.

“Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet!” Ingenuity’s chief pilot Håvard Grip said, confirming the telemetry.

The difficulties of Martian flight

Part of the test was to see how the ingenuity performed under the conditions on the red planet that are much different than flying on Earth. The Martian atmosphere is only 1 percent dense as that of Earth at sea level, the BBC reported. Therefore, there is less air for helicopter blades to push against, creating a challenge for aerodynamic lift, NBC reported. Mars has a lower gravitational pull, which is only 38 percent as strong as Earth’s. Therefore, larger rotor blades are required that’s been more rapidly to compensate for the differences.

The Ingenuity helicopter and its mission

The Ingenuity helicopter weighs approximately 4 pounds and stands 19-inches tall. It has a pair of twin, 4-foot-long carbon-fiber rotors. The blades were designed specifically to deal with the air and gravitational differences of Mars.

Ingenuity’s mission is not one of primarily gathering data, in fact, it carries no scientific instruments. The main mission of the helicopter is to prove that such flight operation is possible. Besides remote control, the chopper was designed to have a significant amount of autonomy and self-navigation. In that regard, the whirly bird is equipped with a black-and-white navigation camera. As the helicopter flies, helicopter gathers its bearings during flight in real time by doing an analysis of the photos that are snapped by its navigational camera. Ingenuity also has a 13-mega pixel color camera for capturing images.