NASA’ Jet Propulsion Laboratory makes history again early Monday morning with a successful attempt flying the first powered, controlled flight on another planet: Mars!
“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. “The X-15 was a pathfinder for the space shuttle. Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover did the same for three generations of Mars rovers. 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.”
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 19, 2021
NASA reports that the Ingenuity team at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT (3:46 a.m. PDT). The helicopter first soared into the sky at 3:34 a.m. EDT, 12:33 Local Mean Solar Time (Mars time), climbing to a maximum altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) while holding steadily in a hover for 30 seconds.
“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,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen. “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.”
It’s been more than a century since the first powered, control flight happened on Earth. On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright successfully covered a span of 120 feet in 12 seconds near Kitty Hawk, NC, with their aircraft the “Flyer.” To commemorate that important moment in time, Ingenuity carried with it a small piece of the material from the Wright brothers’ aircraft during it’s inaugural flight.
"We are very proud to honor that experimental aircraft from long ago, by carrying a small piece of fabric on Ingenuity."@NASAJPL chief engineer Bob Balaram explains how the #MarsHelicopter carries a small piece of the Wright Brothers' original Flyer 1: pic.twitter.com/S7S3pBbJbt
— NASA (@NASA) March 23, 2021
I had a chance to talk to Ingenuity’s Mechanical Engineer Lead Josh Ravitch from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory about the historic flight! Watch the full interview below:
According to the full NASA press release, the first flight was full of many unknowns. “The Mars Helicopter project has gone from ‘blue sky’ feasibility study to workable engineering concept to achieving the first flight on another world in a little over six years,” said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. “That this project has achieved such a historic first is testimony to the innovation and doggedness of our team here at JPL, as well as at NASA’s Langley and Ames Research Centers, and our industry partners. It’s a shining example of the kind of technology push that thrives at JPL and fits well with NASA’s exploration goals.”
“We have been thinking for so long about having our Wright brothers moment on Mars, and here it is,” said MiMi Aung, project manager of the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter at JPL. “We will take a moment to celebrate our success and then take a cue from Orville and Wilbur regarding what to do next. History shows they got back to work – to learn as much as they could about their new aircraft – and so will we.”
If you want to learn more about the mission and helicopter in general, check out these links from NASA which break everything down in more detail.