NATIONAL NEWS

NASA’s Mars Helicopter Takes Flight, 1st For Another Planet

Apr 19, 2021, 5:37 AM | Updated: 5:41 am
In this image from NASA, NASA's experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity hovers above the surface of ...
In this image from NASA, NASA's experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity hovers above the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA)
(NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the planet’s thin air on Monday, achieving the first powered flight on another planet.

The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter named Ingenuity, in fact, carried a bit of wing fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer, which made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

“Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet,” said the helicopter’s chief pilot back on Earth, Havard Grip, his voice breaking as his teammates erupted in cheers.

Flight controllers in California confirmed Ingenuity’s brief hop after receiving data via the Perseverance rover, which stood watch more than 200 feet (65 meters) away. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February.

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.

“Each world gets only one first flight,” project manager MiMi Aung noted earlier this month. Speaking on a NASA webcast early Monday, she called it the “ultimate dream.”

Aung and her team had to wait more than three excruciating hours before learning whether the pre-programmed flight had succeeded 178 million miles (287 million kilometers) away. Adding to their anxiety: A software error prevented the helicopter from lifting off a week earlier and had engineers scrambling to come up with a fix.

Applause, cheers and laughter erupted in the operations center when success was finally declared. More followed when the first black and white photo from Ingenuity appeared on their screens, showing its shadow as it hovered above the surface of Mars. Next came the stunning color images of the helicopter descending back to the surface, taken by Perseverance, “the best host little Ingenuity could ever hope for,” Aung said in thanking everyone.

NASA had been aiming for a 40-second flight, and while details were initially sparse, the craft hit all its targets: spin-up, takeoff, hover, descent and landing.

To accomplish all that, the helicopter’s twin, counter-rotating rotor blades needed to spin at 2,500 revolutions per minute — five times faster than on Earth. With an atmosphere just 1 percent the thickness of Earth’s, engineers had to build a helicopter light enough — with blades spinning fast enough — to generate this otherworldy lift. At the same time, it had to be sturdy enough to withstand the Martian wind and extreme cold.

More than six years in the making, Ingenuity is a barebones 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) tall, a spindly four-legged chopper. Its fuselage, containing all the batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon-fiber, foam-filled rotors are the biggest pieces: Each pair stretches 4 feet (1.2 meters) tip to tip.

The helicopter is topped with a solar panel for recharging the batteries, crucial for its survival during the minus-130 degree Fahrenheit (minus-90 degree-Celsius) Martian nights.

NASA chose a flat, relatively rock-free patch for Ingenuity’s airfield, measuring 33 feet by 33 feet (10 meters by 10 meters). It turned out to be less than 100 feet (30 meters) from the original landing site in Jezero Crater. The helicopter was released from the rover onto the airfield on April 3. Flight commands were sent Sunday, after controllers sent up a software correction for the rotor blade spin-up.

The little chopper with a giant job attracted attention from around the world, from the moment it launched with Perseverance last July until now. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger joined in the fun, rooting for Ingenuity over the weekend via Twitter. “Get to the chopper!” he shouted, re-enacting a line from his 1987 sci-fi film “Predator.”

Up to five helicopter flights are planned, each one increasingly ambitious. If successful, the demo could lead the way to a fleet of Martian drones in decades to come, providing aerial views, transporting packages and serving as scouts for astronauts. High-altitude helicopters here on Earth could also benefit — imagine choppers easily navigating the Himalayas.

Ingenuity’s team has until the beginning of May to complete the test flights. That’s because the rover needs to get on with its main mission: collecting rock samples that could hold evidence of past Martian life, for return to Earth a decade from now.

Until then, Perseverance will keep watch over Ingenuity. Flight engineers affectionately call them Percy and Ginny. “Big sister’s watching,” said Malin Space Science Systems’ Elsa Jensen, the rover’s lead camera operator.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) participates in a bill enrollment ceremony alongside Senate Major...
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

AP 2015: Supreme Court gives same-sex marriage rights

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry. The narrow, 5-4, decision did away with same-sex marriage bans in 14 states.
19 hours ago
...
MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press

Philly’s slain ‘Boy in Box’: 66 years later we know his name

Nearly 66 years after the battered body of a young boy was found stuffed inside a cardboard box, Philadelphia police have revealed the identity of the victim in the city’s most notorious cold case.
19 hours ago
FILE PHOTO (Joseph Pallen/University of Idaho)...
REBECCA BOONE Associated Press

University of Idaho settles students’ free speech lawsuit

The University of Idaho will pay $90,000 to settle a lawsuit from members of a Christian law students' organization who claimed their freedom of speech was violated when the school issued no-contact orders against them.
19 hours ago
U.S. Border Patrol office lobby....
Associated Press

Ex-Border Patrol agent convicted of killing 4 women in Texas

A former Border Patrol agent who confessed to killing four sex workers in 2018 has been convicted of capital murder.
19 hours ago
People holding signs outside of the New York Times....
ALEXANDRA OLSON AP Business Writer

New York Times journalists, other workers on 24-hour strike

Hundreds of New York Times journalists and other staff have walked off the job for 24 hours. They're frustrated by contract negotiations that have dragged on for months in the newspaper's biggest labor dispute in more than 40 years.
19 hours ago
The Twitter headquarters signage as seen on 10th Street on November 4, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif...
MATT O'BRIEN AP Technology Writer

Women sue Musk’s Twitter alleging discriminatory layoffs

Two women who lost their jobs at Twitter when billionaire Elon Musk took over are suing the company in federal court, claiming that last month's abrupt mass layoffs disproportionately affected female employees.
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
NASA’s Mars Helicopter Takes Flight, 1st For Another Planet