NASA’s Mars Helicopter proved that powered, controlled flight from the surface of another planet is possible. It takes a little ingenuity, perseverance, and spirit to make that opportunity a reality.
And above all, teamwork! Some feats are only impossible if we go alone. It is when we work together, we achieve great things. #MarsHelicopter
NASA hopes to score a 21st-century Wright Brothers moment on Monday as it attempts to send a miniature helicopter buzzing over the surface of Mars in what would be the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet.
The Wright Brothers’ first controlled flight in the world of a motor-driven airplane, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903 covered just 120 feet (37 meters) in 12 seconds.
A modest debut is likewise in store for NASA’s twin-rotor, solar-powered helicopter Ingenuity.
If all goes to plan, the 4-pound (1.8-kg) whirligig will slowly ascend straight up to an altitude of 10 feet (3 meters) above the Martian surface, hover in place for 30 seconds, then rotate before descending to a gentle landing on all four legs.
While the mere metrics may seem less than ambitious, the “air field” for the interplanetary test flight is 173 million miles from Earth, on the floor of a vast Martian basin called Jezero Crater. Success hinges on Ingenuity executing the pre-programmed flight instructions using an autonomous pilot and navigation system.
NASA itself is likening the experiment to the Wright Brothers’ feat 117 years ago, paying tribute to that modest but monumental first flight by having affixed a tiny swath of wing fabric from the original Wright flyer under Ingenuity’s solar panel.
The robot rotorcraft was carried to the red planet strapped to the belly of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance, a mobile astrobiology lab that touched down on Feb. 18 in Jezero Crater after a nearly seven-month journey through space.
NASA hopes Ingenuity — a technology demonstration separate from Perseverance’s primary mission to search for traces of ancient microorganisms — paves the way for aerial surveillance of Mars and other destinations in the solar system, such as Venus or Saturn’s moon Titan.