NASA’s Mars Helicopter Makes History With First Flight

The Mars helicopter Ingenuity performed the first controlled flight on another planet early Monday, demonstrating a new way to help humans explore.


NASA’s drone, which was built with partner AeroVironment (AVAV) flew to an altitude of 10 feet, maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds, then returned to the surface of Mars, according to altimeter data released by NASA. The agency has allotted 31 days for the Ingenuity mission, which can include up to four more flights.

“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 in a press release. “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.”

Flying on Earth isn’t like flying on Mars. The air on Mars has just 1% of the density of Earth’s air, making it harder for the spinning blades to create lift. So, Ingenuity is light at just four pounds. It stands at 19 inches high with a rotor that spans about four feet. Its rotor blades spin five-to-10 times faster than helicopters on Earth do.

NASA hopes Ingenuity will help prove the concept for future Mars helicopters to be used for scouting, carrying payloads, and exploring areas that are too dangerous for a rover to enter.

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Mars Helicopter First In Flight

AeroVironment shares were not active early on the stock market today but has been hitting resistance at the 50-day line, according to MarketSmith chart analysisLockheed Martin (LMT), whose Mars Helicopter Delivery System deployed Ingenuity for flight, was also not active early after closing up 0.3% on Friday.

To mark Ingenunity’s historic milestone, the Mars helicopter is carrying a postage stamp-size piece of fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer, the first controlled, powered aircraft on Earth.

It’s been a long road for Ingenuity’s first flight. The drone spent seven months on its way to the red planet. It then had to deploy from the belly of the Perseverance rover and spend frigid nights on Mars.

The Mars helicopter was supposed to take flight on April 11, but engineers needed to fix a command sequence issue and perform more preflight checks.

Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter for space news and more.


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