Watch: Ingenuity Helicopter completes historic first flight on Mars

Shame on me for ever doubting NASA. After overcoming a software issue, the Ingenuity Helicopter completed its initial flight on Mars earlier this morning. Ingenuity is the first in history to make a powered, controlled flight on another planet.

The Ingenuity team confirmed the flight succeeded after receiving data from the helicopter via NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover at 6:46 a.m. EDT. The $80 million, solar-powered helicopter first became airborne at 3:34 a.m. EDT and climbed to its prescribed maximum altitude of 10 feet. It hovered in the air for 30 seconds before descending back to the surface of Mars. It was in the air for a total of 39.1 seconds.

Ingenuity’s initial flight demonstration was autonomous. It was piloted by onboard guidance, navigation, and control systems running algorithms. Because data must be sent to and returned from the Red Planet over hundreds of millions of miles using orbiting satellites and NASA’s Deep Space Network, Ingenuity cannot be flown with a joystick. The flight was not observable from Earth in real time.

Parked about 211 feet away from Ingenuity during the historic first flight, the Perseverance Rover not only acted as a communications relay between the helicopter and Earth, but also chronicled the flight operations with its cameras. The pictures from the rover’s Mastcam-Z and Navcam imagers will provide additional data on the helicopter’s flight.

“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.”

Perseverance touched down with Ingenuity attached to its belly on Feb. 18. Deployed to the surface of Jezero Crater on April 3, Ingenuity is currently on the 16th sol, or Martian day, of its 30-sol (31-Earth day) flight test window. Over the next three sols, the helicopter team will receive and analyze all data and imagery from the test and formulate a plan for the second experimental test flight, scheduled for no earlier than April 22. If the helicopter survives the second flight test, the Ingenuity team will consider how best to expand the flight profile.

With the helicopter’s first outing deemed a success, NASA plans to send Ingenuity on several additional, progressively more ambitious flights in the weeks ahead. NASA is holding a press conference later today to discuss the historic first flight. We will update this story with additional photos, videos and other information as it becomes available.

Ingenuity Helicopter

This image from NASA’s Perseverance Rover shows the Ingenuity Helicopter hovering above Mars. Photo Credit: NASA

Editor’s Note: Follow along The Robot Report’s complete coverage of the Mars 2020 Mission.

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