History was made on Monday as NASA’s helicopter on Mars, Ingenuity, performed the first ever flight of a powered aircraft on another planet.
To say it was no mean feat is an understatement — here’s a full explainer on why flying a helicopter on Mars is so damn hard. The moment also came after a painful wait for an all-too-familiar software update to the helicopter’s onboard computer last week, following an issue spotted in a rotor test.
But around 3:30 a.m. ET on Monday, NASA successfully conducted a flight from the Martian surface, the first time a controlled, powered aircraft has done so on another planet. The images made it back to Earth around 7:00 a.m. ET, and they are something to behold.
NASA’s official Mars account shared a stunning image of Ingenuity hovering above the Martian surface, and confirmed “more test flights are planned for the coming days.”
Perseverance, the rover that allowed Ingenuity to hitch a ride to Mars, had a good view from where it was sitting nearby, filming the moment when the helicopter hovered 10 feet in the air for around 30 seconds. The 1.8-kilogram craft was lifted by its four-foot-long, carbon fibre, counter-rotating rotors that spin at approximately 2,400 rpm.
As seen from the the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, here’s the moment when Ingenuity took off, hovered, descended, then touched back down — all to furious applause from the team. It’s a really emotional moment, take a look:
“We’ve been talking for so long about our Wright brothers moment. And here it is,” said MiMi Aung, Mars Ingenuity helicopter project manager, said following the news of the successful flight.
You can watch the whole thing on YouTube right here, skip to about 38 minutes for the gold: