NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter ascended from a dusty red surface to thin air on Monday, achieving its first powered and controlled flight on another planet.
The victory was welcomed as a moment for the Wright brothers. In fact, a mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) helicopter named Ingenuity carried a bit of wing fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer, which made a similar history in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
“We can now say that humans have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” project manager Mimi Aung told her team.
NASA Tweet A video of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) when the team first received and saw a record of a successful flight.
“Potential small rotorcraft”, JPL account Tweet, With photos from the flight.
The California flight controller confirmed Ingenuity’s short hop after receiving data via the Perseverance Rover, which stood more than 200 feet (65 meters) away. Upon arriving in the ancient delta in February, the ingenuity clung to Rover’s belly and caught a ride to Mars in Perseverance.
The $ 85 million helicopter demo was considered risky but rewarding.
“There is only one first flight in each world,” said project manager MiMi Aung earlier this month. Speaking on the NASA webcast early Monday, she called it the “ultimate dream.”
Aung and her team had to wait more than three hours before knowing if the pre-programmed flight was successful 178 million miles (287 million kilometers) away. Increasing their anxiety: A software error prevented the helicopter from taking off a week ago, and engineers scrambled to come up with a fix.
Applause, cheers, and laughter arose at the Operations Center when success was declared. Even more when the first black-and-white photo was displayed on the screen, it showed the shadow of Ingenuity as it floated above the surface of Mars. Next, a stunning color image of the helicopter taken by Perseverance returned to the surface and was even more applauded.
Details were sparse at first, but NASA was aiming for a 40-second flight. The helicopter is to climb 10 feet (3 meters), hover for up to 30 seconds, then turn towards the rover and land near where it took off.
To achieve all that, the helicopter’s two counter-rotating rotor blades had to rotate at 2,500 rpm. This is five times faster than the Earth. In an atmosphere of only 1% of the Earth’s thickness, engineers needed to build a helicopter light enough to generate this extraordinary lift — the blades spin fast enough. At the same time, it had to be sturdy enough to withstand the winds and colds of Mars.
The Ingenuity is a bare, four-legged chopper with a minimum height of 1.6 feet (0.5 meters), which has been in production for over 6 years. The fuselage, including all batteries, heaters and sensors, is the size of a tissue box. The carbon fiber foam filling rotor is the largest component. Each pair extends 4 feet (1.2 meters) from tip to tip.
The helicopter is equipped with solar panels to recharge the battery and is essential for survival on Martian nights at minus 130 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 90 degrees Celsius).
NASA has selected a 33-foot x 33-foot (10m x 10m) flat, relatively rock-free patch for the Ingenuity airfield. It turned out to be less than 100 feet (30 meters) from the original landing site of the Jezero Crater. The helicopter was released from Rover to the airfield on April 3. A flight command was sent on Sunday after the controller sent a software fix for the rotor blade spin-up.
From the moment it was launched at Perseverance in July last year to the present, a small chopper doing a huge job has attracted attention from all over the world. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger participated in the fun over the weekend cheering for Ingenuity via Twitter. “Go to the chopper!” He shouted, recreating the lines of the 1987 science fiction movie “Predator.”
Up to five helicopter flights are planned, each of which is increasingly ambitious. If successful, the demonstration could guide the way to a fleet of Martian drones, provide aerial photographs, transport luggage, and act as an astronaut scout in the coming decades. High altitude helicopters here on Earth can also benefit — imagine choppers easily navigating the Himalayas.
The Ingenuity team must complete the test flight until early May. This is because Rover needs to fulfill its main mission. It is to collect rock samples that can hold evidence of past Martian life in order to return to Earth in the last decade.
Until then, Perseverance will keep an eye on ingenuity. Flight engineers affectionately call them Percy and Genie. “My sister is watching,” said Rover’s chief photographer, Elsa Jensen of Malin Space Science Systems.
The Associated Press’s Department of Health Sciences is supported by the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.
NASA’s Mars helicopter flies and ranks first on another planet – NBC Chicago
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