NASA’s Ingenuity Drone Helicopter Makes First Interplanetary Liftoff

The little guy did it! Ingenuity made its first test flight on the surface of Mars.

For the first time in history, humans have flown a craft on a different planet.  A milestone for a number of reasons, the 39 second flight was brief but historic, and another feather in NASA’s cap for an absolutely brilliant Mars mission so far.

Attached to the belly of the new Mars rover Perseverance, the autonomous drone helicopter spent the last few weeks getting acquainted with the Martian atmosphere.  Unlike his big sibling who is powered by a small nuclear reactor, Ingenuity is only four pounds and solar powered, making it much more susceptible to the hugely cold temperatures.

NASA aborted a planned flight last week to make sure the craft was safe, sound, and ready to fly.

Part of the challenge of flying a craft on Mars is the very thin atmosphere, which provides much less lift than here on Earth. Aside from that, there’s the distance, a whopping 179,000,000 miles from Earth that the instructions must travel to be sent.  The delay means that NASA engineers can’t record what’s happening in real-time. Instead, they’re left waiting in anxious anticipation to see if the short controlled flight was a success.

Below is the official Tweet once the successful data was confirmed.

And while this first flight was only to a height of ten feet, many additional flights are planned, and NASA hopes to learn much from this new endeavor.

Via NASA:

“Now, 117 years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight on our planet, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has succeeded in performing this amazing feat on another world,” Zurbuchen said. “While these two iconic moments in aviation history may be separated by time and 173 million miles of space, they now will forever be linked. As an homage to the two innovative bicycle makers from Dayton, this first of many airfields on other worlds will now be known as Wright Brothers Field, in recognition of the ingenuity and innovation that continue to propel exploration.”

     – NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen