NASA's Mars Helicopter Ingenuity Makes Historic First Flight
April 22, 2021
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has made a historic flight on Mars, marking the first powered aircraft on another planet.
"Ingenuity is the latest in a long and storied tradition of NASA projects achieving a space exploration goal once thought impossible," said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk after the historic flight on Monday. "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."
Ingenuity's initial flight demonstration was autonomous, piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms developed by the team at JPL in Pasadena.
Altimeter data indicate Ingenuity climbed to its prescribed altitude of 10 feet and maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds. It then descended, touching back down on the surface of Mars after logging a total of 39.1 seconds of flight.
Ingenuity hitched a ride to the red planet on Perseverance, clinging to the rover's belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta on February 18. The $85m helicopter demo was considered a high risk, yet high reward.
The 19.3-inch-tall Mars helicopter contains no science instruments inside its tissue-box-size fuselage. Instead, the 4-pound rotorcraft is intended to demonstrate whether future exploration of the Red Planet could include an aerial perspective.
NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen announced the name for the Martian airfield on which the flight took place: "Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration."
"We have been thinking for so long about having our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is," said MiMi Aung, project manager of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. "We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next."
Deployed to the surface of Jezero Crater on April 3, Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol, or Martian day, of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window. Over the next three sols, the helicopter team will receive and analyze all data and imagery from the test and formulate a plan for the second experimental test flight, scheduled for no earlier than April 22.